Tag Archives: feminism

The Guardian and the Return of the Victorian Lady

Guardian Journalist
Guardian Journalist

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”.

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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.

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The Slut-Shaming of a Sex Worker on Facebook

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.

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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.

 

slut-shaming
slut-shaming
slut-shaming

The Trouble With the F Word: Documentary Fundraiser

f-wordA couple of years ago, as I was launching this campaign, I was contacted by Vanessa Pellegrin, who was working on a documentary called The Trouble With the F Word: a film examining why feminism has become so unpopular. She has now launched a Kickstarter campaign to help complete the film.

It’s an interesting question, and one that also partly drove me to write my own book, Porn Panic!

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The film will take a balanced look at feminism and anti-feminism (whatever those things may be – sometimes, feminism itself appears to be so broad and self-contradictory that it could be labelled anti-feminism!)

In the short video below, Vanessa gives five reasons to help fund her project. Have a look, and check out her Kickstarter page if you’d like to be involved.

Anti-Sex Worker Bullying: a Sex Worker Replies

Many sex workers, especially those who dare to be open and proud of what they do, receive hateful messages. Here, sex worker Lila Rose replies to a person who has sent her a series of messages. This was originally posted on Facebook, and is copied here with the author’s permission.

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Ok so some of you may know that this person has been sending me horrible and offensive messages to me because they do not agree with me being a sex worker and believe that i’m in a bad situation, even though they just assume so. Here is my response…

Dear Francesca Lilla/Maria Rosa…whatever your name is.

I have yet remained silent throughout your offensive and ignorant messages on Facebook that you have sent me regarding your opinions of my persons and of my sex work. I have remained silent up until this point because it’s not really worth my time to worry with such ignorance and criticism that is thrown my way every time it presents itself. But, seeing as you so kindly feel the need to reduce me to a victim and use your hetero-white privileged god saving complex to try to “save me” from myself as well as messaging my friends and hurling racist/xenophobic and down right disgusting comments to them, I feel the need to now educate you on my life and why I don’t give a shit about YOUR own insecurities.

So here is my response to every single message you have sent me so far:

Message ONE

Do I remember you? I vaguely remember someone by the name of Maria Rosa on my BA course at Wimbledon College of Art, if I’m not mistaken she was Italian. What happened to her? Who was she? I haven’t a clue and it’s none of my concern. Frankly, I don’t care to know either.

You discovered I’m a Sex Worker, good for you. Yes I REALLY AM A SEX WORKER and I have worked in the sex industry since I was 20/21 years old. I started escorting around a year ago now but have worked with various aspects of the industry: porn, stripping, escorting, web cam, domination, etc.

What happened to me? Lots of things have happened to me. And once again, YES I REALLY AM A SEX WORKER. I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. What bastard told me to do sex work? This bastard right here – ME-MYSELF-AND-I. If by asking whether I am paid by someone who convinces me to do this, you actually mean that I have a pimp who “coerces” me into “prostitution” then my answer is NO. I WORK FOR MYSELF AND CHOSE TO WORK WITH ANY AGENCY THAT I’M CONNECTED WITH.

You say that there is nothing “feminist” about being a sex worker, I think you are wrong and here’s why…

For me FEMINISM is a way of life that allows me to freely act as my own agent: making the life choices that I want and dealing with them on my own terms. It’s a movement that represents all people from all walks of life, regardless of: gender, race, sexuality, class, profession, etc. And that for me includes SEX WORK. As you can see, I’m an INTERSECTIONAL FEMINIST. You can read more about it here.

By stating that being a sex worker is “non –feminist” what you are really stating is that SOME women have more validity than others, that somewhat you are superior because you believe that your way of thinking and way of life is the “right way” and any choices they have made are wrong. This to me is what I like to call: THE ANTI-WOMAN FEMINIST.

WHO MADE YOU SPOKES PERSON FOR FEMINISM WORLD-WIDE?

Here’s a nice little extract with a website you may be familiar with (Wikipedia) and their information about Sex-positive feminism (which is what I am part of):

“Pro-sex work and pro-sex worker’s rights feminists[edit]
Unlike those feminists critical of prostitution, pro-sex work perspectives do not concede that prostitution sexual acts have an inherent element of coercion, exploitation, and domination. As such, pro-sex feminists instead assert that sex-work can be a positive experience for women who have employed their autonomy to make an informed decision to engage in prostitution.

Many feminists, particularly those associated with the sex workers’ rights movement or sex-positive feminism, argue that the act of selling sex need not inherently be exploitative; but that attempts to abolish prostitution, and the attitudes that lead to such attempts, lead to an abusive climate for sex workers that must be changed. In this view, prostitution, along with other forms of sex work, can be valid choices for the women and men who engage in it. This perspective has led to the rise since the 1970s of an international sex workers’ rights movement, comprising organizations such as COYOTE, the International Prostitutes Collective, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, and other sex worker rights groups.

An important argument advanced by pro-sex work feminists such as Carol Queen highlights that all too often feminists who are critical of prostitution have failed to adequately consider the viewpoints of women who are themselves engaged in sex work, choosing instead to base their arguments in theory and outdated experiences.[39] Feminists who do not support the radical anti-prostitution view, argue that there are serious problems with the anti-prostitution position, one of which is that, according to Sarah Bromberg, “it evolves from a political theory that is over-verbalized, generalized, and too often uses stereotypical notions of what a prostitute is. The radical [anti-prostitution] feminist views are … not always delineated sufficiently to support a credible theory that prostitution degrades all women”.

Pro-sex work feminists say that the sex industry is not a “monolith”, that it is large and varied, that people are sex workers for many different reasons, and that it is unproductive to target prostitution as an institution. Instead, they believe things should be done to improve the lives of the people within the industry.”

Who told me I could be a fantastic artist? I DID. AND I AM FUCKING AWESOME.

“what the thing about being a slut?” – Honey, a slut is nothing more than a word used to reduce (predominantly) women to mere objects void of any form of agency and free will. If you allow this word to be used against you in a negative way, then you allow yourself to be reduced as such. For me, I proudly use the word SLUT. Why? BECAUSE HAVING SEX WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE IS FUN AND I ENJOY IT. AND FRANKLY, IT’S NO ONE’S BUISINESS IF I DO. IF PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF A WOMAN’S SEXUALITY THEN THAT IS THEIR PROBLEM, I AM MY OWN SEXUAL BEING AND NO ONE WILL TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME, IT IS MY PEROGATIVE TO ENJOY SEX, TO USE IT AS I WISH AND WITH WHOM I WISH.

“I remember you were talented…” – I STILL AM TALENTED. Talent is relative and it isn’t something you can strip away because of life choices and/or other people’s opinions. I’m still doing really well in terms of art. I still make art, I exhibit a lot, I usually have around 7-8 shows a year since graduating from my art degree – and unlike you, I ACTUALLY graduated. See, I can still do both: be a sex worker and have an education…who’d have thought?!

“There is a lot of people who want to ruin feminism and make feminists sluts” – I totally agree with you: “feminists” such as yourself for example, who use their white-hetero-cis gendered privilege against those who do not fit into their system, “feminists” such as yourself who feel the need to dictate to other feminists what the “right way” is purely because they have some sort of white status. Honey, it’s “feminists” such as yourself who reduce sexually free acting women such as myself to “sluts” because you feel the need to shame them for their own agency, something you clearly don’t seem to understand. I have fought long and hard to be the free agent that I am, I have undergone extensive battles within myself, I have been shunned by my own family numerous times in order to be the free agent that I am, in order to be true to who I am. And NO ONE, NOT EVEN YOU WILL TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. PERIOD.

The key word here is AGENCY and I understand that you may not know what it means…here you go, educate yourself: http://www.britannica.com/…/284…/Feminist-theories-of-agency

Regarding Richard Layzell – he was my performance art tutor at art school and whilst he was influential in my way of working and communicating performance, he in no way has had any involvement in my personal life and/or life post-graduation. It is none of my concern whether or not you got on well with him at uni and maybe you should care less about rumours that other people spread and make up your own judgements of people based on your interaction with them. Richard was and is a great artist and I have the upmost respect for him, artist to artist, human to human. I don’t understand why you are even bringing him up in your already flawed arguments.

You feel bad to see me like this? DON’T. Feel bad that you are unable to mind your own business and feel the need to indulge your own narcissistic flaws by acquiring a god-complex. I pity you.

Message TWO

You say you understand that I might not want to listen to you – clearly YOU DON’T. You go on to say that I “should” listen to you and even though I had never responded you still continue to message me to make me change my mind. Once again: look at me I’m a white-hetero-cis gendered privileged feminist and you must listen to me for my way is the right way BLAH BLAH BLAH. Here’s the thing, you state that there are people who are trying to persuade me to make certain life choices and yet you are doing the EXACT thing that you claim these so called “pimps” are supposedly trying to do. It’s vile that you think you have some sort of superiority over me and therefore I must listen to your saviour complex. Well here’s some words of advice: check your privilege before you feel the need to impose your views on others and mind your own business if you are not prepared to be open minded about other people’s lives.

“if you like to fuck from different men doesn’t mean be a sex worker you can have a normal job and normal relation with men or a lot of men, or the person you like” – why, thank you for pointing out the obvious. It doesn’t mean I HAVE to be a sex worker, you are right there, but it sure does make my job a hell of a lot easier! I still have normal relations with people outside of my sex work, I can still have lots of sex with people who are not clients and guess what: I STILL ENJOY IT. I don’t want a “normal” job that doesn’t fit to my personality, this job however, does.

I find it very condescending of you to proceed to send me job applications and links, as if to assume that I am incapable of job hunting if I wish to change my job. And then, to make matters worse, you feel the need to “educate” me on how to conduct myself in interviews and in job applications. Because I have never done such things? I have worked in so many areas, in various jobs and have attended numerous interviews: I know exactly how to conduct myself in such situations and don’t need you to tell me how to do so. You seem to miss the point. I am a sex worker AND also highly educated, the two are more than capable of going hand-in-hand. And for one to assume that sex workers are an uneducated bunch emphasizes your lack of understanding on the subject matter.

Collaborating with other artists is still something I do and I create my art alongside my sex work, for me the two work alongside each other perfectly well.

“I’m really busy I cannot come to rescue you I’m so sad for that I do my best so please listen to me” – clearly you are not that busy if you have time to pester me with your anti-sex work crap. I have been busy due to being awesome, hence why I have not responded until now.

Message THREE

“I don’t know what they did to you some people they told me you are abused and you don’t remember” – First of all who are “they” and what exactly did they say to you? Whether or not I have or haven’t been abused is none of your concern nor is it any one else’s. It is up to me whether or not I reveal such information and to whom. Even if it were true, in no way is that relevant to the sex work debate, NOT EVERY SEX WORKER HAS COME FROM A LIFE OF ABUSE AND BY PROFILING THEM AS SUCH IS ANOTHER WAY OF VICTIMISING THEM WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT AS WELL AS TAKING THEIR AGENCY FROM WHAT THEY DO.

“I will save you” – Save yourself first. You clearly need it more than I do.

“I want to fucking destroy that fucking city of English bastards” – clearly your racism has gotten the best of you and you need to “check yourself, before you wreck yourself girlfriend”. Seriously, sort yourself out.

“You can have an amazing normal work having a normal life full of normal people that likes and love you as you have when I meet you” – I have an AMAZING life already, it may not be perfect but it sure has been a great learning curve and in no way would I change it. Life can always be better, but it’s what you make with it that makes it beautiful. As for the people in my life, I have plenty of amazing people who love me and who support me when I need them, and if they don’t: well, they soon loose any relevance in the story of my life. Simple.

“I can’t believe you prefer being a slut rather than have a normal job” – seriously, my job is just as normal as someone who works a 9-5 in an office, we both sell our bodies for money. I just so happen to have sex and enjoy it. And being a slut? Well: FEMINIST SLUT POWER ALL THE WAY <3

“I told you to try” – I’m telling you to mind your own business.

“I’m a feminist I risk my life for what I believe for that I’m so successful and thousands of people love me” – this is not a “who’s popular” contest. I’m glad you are successful, but guess what, so am I. You are loved by thousands of people? So am I. Who even cares?

“people don’t like slut people never like slut slut are slut these are not feminist” – well clearly you are not part of my feminism, which is fine, but keep your white collar feminism out of my grill. “sluts” as you call them, are people, they’re women, if you as a feminist can’t even see them as human beings just like every body else then for what does your feminism serve? And for whom? Get your head out of your arse.

“YOU ARE NOT A SLUT YOU ARE IN A SHIT SITUATION YOU ARE ABUSED OH GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M GONNA SMASH EVERTHING IN THIS WORLD UNTIL YOU ARE SAFE WITH A NORMAL LIFE FUKIN ENGLISH MAN FUKIN EACH BASTARD OF ENGLAND THAT BRING YOU IN THAT SHIT” – Make up your damn mind. One minute I’m a slut and I shouldn’t put myself in this position the next I’m a victim and abused, blah blah blah. Do you even know what you are talking about or did you just Google up “anti-sex work feminism arguments”? Smash whatever you like, I’ll still be here: having sex, loving my life and getting paid for it. Enjoy your chaos on your own.

Message FOUR

You say you won’t calm down until I am safe in another place. I have a normal life, well as normal as one can be when you’re me ha ha. I won’t listen to you because I am acting out of my own choice and I am safe within my world. Of course one should always be cautious, whether or not you are a sex worker or a man or woman or other. I don’t need you to whisk me away to another country to stay with your family. And don’t worry, I’m constantly reflecting on my future, I don’t need you to tell me so. Yes I can go to Brazil, to Rio. I was born there and my family have a house there, I don’t need you to take me there to live with your family member. I have my own family there.

No I don’t want to meet you. You are not worthy of my time.

Message FIVE

In your opinion, sex work is the “problem for women” and that it’s “against feminism” but then you state that you are a feminist and that you “scream that women have to have their rights”, yet you fail to understand that women should have that right to choose who they and how many people they sleep with and whether or not they get paid for it. Women should have the right to be “sluts” if they choose then, surely?

Your comments about the CIA running programs to ruin feminism and that they are behind sex work is just ludicrous and I have no words to give you apart from: are you even for real?

Referring to sex workers as “prostitutes” is not only demeaning of their autonomy, it is also an out-dated term that is heavily embedded within a historical and socio-political context. Whilst it is important to understand the term “prostitute” and it’s cultural implications, one must also understand that prostitution has come a long way and we now use the term sex worker as a broader term that is more inclusive.

You say that “the system” for centuries has enslaved women and makes them passive, that “prostitutes” are never part of society, that they “never take the decisions that men in industries/politics take”, that they are “behind men”. You see, YOU ARE SO WRONG. Prostitution is the oldest profession in the books, if you really think about it, “prostitutes” were the first entrepreneurs and still are. You say they are passive, but really most are not, and I know many! You seem to assume that all working girls are in fact victims and can’t take care of themselves. And I assure you I am the LEAST passive person you will ever find, yet I still am a working girl. Do you even know any sex workers personally? Have you even engaged with any? Have you taken the time to find out about their lives, about how they operate, how they feel before casting judgements?

And yes I am behind men quite a lot, usually with my dick in their arse. It’s so much fun, you should try it some time.

“oh god the other day I thought that if you know what I am doing with feminism how you would look at me” – So what, you want a fucking medal?! I do as much within feminism myself and I am a proactive speaker through my art work as well as social media, I go to protests, to marches, to rallies.

“Oh I thought also what you might didn’t listen to me that you mike think I’m lesbian, I’m straight I have a boyfriend” – well first of all, your sexuality and sexual preferences aren’t of any interest to me and even if you were a lesbian, it would have nothing to do with me listening to you or not. I myself am pansexual, I am attracted to various people of various genders and sexualities. I’m LGBTQ friendly.

“if I am a feminist, if I know a person is in a bad situation if I don’t help what kind of feminism I speak for?” – But you don’t know whether I am in a bad situation or not…you just ASSUMED so purely based on the fact that I am a sex worker. That is all. You haven’t even asked if I’m ok, if I’m enjoying myself, if I like my work.

“I’m an activist, I have passed a lot of bad things for what I’m doing and I continue for make real the dream that women have decades ago even if it is difficult” – well I’m glad that you are passionate about your activism but ask yourself this: for whom am I doing it for? I’m also an activist, I can be a sex worker AND an activist: SHOCK HORROR! And may I add that what feminists fought for decades ago isn’t necessarily viable in this day and age. Society has moved on and we have other worries and other fights to fight. It’s not just about women any more, I can’t stress this enough. Yes women still feel the brunt of things, yes women still suffer inequalities, but so do other people and in order to achieve any sort of equality then surely everyone must fight along side each other?

Message SIX

You want me to explain to you why I continue being a sex worker: because I enjoy having sex and getting paid for it, whether that be through escorting, through my porn work or web cam. I get paid a better wage than most people dream of and it allows me time and flexibility with art making. By being paid well, it means that I am able to fund my main career as an artist. Because I meet so many different people from all walks of live, not all men, some times women. I have met so many wonderful people who respect me and treat me well.

Don’t get me wrong, there are bad days and there are times when you feel like you don’t like it, but then isn’t that the same with most jobs? Don’t most people feel that way about their jobs? It’s been a learning curve more importantly, and I relish in the fact that I’m a very strong person and that my feminism has informed my sex work. I have opened up strong communications with my clients, who know that I’m an artist and an activist, who support what I stand for, and for that it makes me more determined in my role as a service provider.

No, I haven’t listened to you because I do not share your opinions, your values and I most certainly do not appreciate your accusatory tone with which you have approached me. It is one thing to express your opinion on the subject matter, another to demand that I change my life for you simply because you fail to understand my life and feminism. I think it’s time to end this tiresome port of communication, don’t you? I will not respond to anything else you have to say for I have said all that I needed to say.

<3 FEMINIST SLUT POWER <3

From your dearest slut…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the Looking Glass with No More Page 3

If you want to attract mass support for a dodgy cause, the trick is to sound eminently reasonable. Extremists tend to alienate most people, including those that are inclined to agree with them. If you have extreme objectives, the important thing is to deny them vociferously, however implausible the denial. Remember that most of your supporters don’t pay close attention to the detail: it’s the presentation that counts.

The far-right know this. The British National Party abruptly switched from an anti-Asian message to an anti-Muslim one within days of 9/11. Their target (working class Pakistani communities) hadn’t changed, but the presentation had. Similarly the English Defence League, eager to avert accusations of fascism, tried to show how pro-Jewish they were by carrying Israeli flags on their protests. “You see,” they were saying, “how can we be Nazis when we love Israel so much?” (although their supporters didn’t always get the message).

The anti-sex movement has had similar presentational problems. The powerful campaigner Mary Whitehouse had become widely mocked by the younger generation by the end of the 20th century. The new generation could no longer be convinced that enjoying and flaunting their sexuality was a bad thing. It seemed that the fear of sex had become a thing of a more prudish past.

The Whitehouse style of moral outrage gave way to a new presentation, re-wrapped in feminist terms. The new anti-sex movement talked in terms of objectification rather than decency or permissiveness, and tried to demonstrate that sexual expression was harmful to women, and thus censorship could be justified in the name of feminism. But beyond the realm of student unions and Guardian comment pages, anti-sex feminists suffered from the same problems that had afflicted Whitehouse: they were seen as prudish, humourless and ideological.

The biggest problem with building a popular anti-sex movement is that most people like sex. Trying to ban all visible displays of sexuality is unlikely to attract mass support, especially when the reasoning (“OMG Objectification, Sexualisation and RAPE CULTURE!!!”) is so easy to pick apart, given the chance for debate.

The problem is one of presentation. Just as the far right was forced to adopt a “we’re not racist, but…” approach, so the anti-sex movement had to learn to to be more subtle than repeating “porn is rape”. A soft target for censorship had to be found – one that attracted little sympathy. Enter No More Page 3.

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign has been based on two decisions: first, to pick the widely-hated Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper as the target for censorship; and second, to deny that their blatantly anti-sex, pro-censorship campaign was either anti-sex or pro-censorship. The first move was smart; the second took sheer brass nerve, reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (aka Comical Ali), who famously claimed Iraq was winning the war, against a backdrop of invading American troops.

As well as nerve, denying the obvious with a straight face takes a good deal of PR expertise and media training, and NMP3 clearly has no shortage of such resources. In politics, most people follow the voice they like, not the one with reasoned argument, and the nice ladies of NMP3 have fashioned themselves an image as the Women’s Institute of the anti-sex movement (though of course, they’re NOT anti-sex). They have successfully formed a broad church ranging from middle-English Christians and girl guides to various strands of feminism and the puritan left.

Last week, my long-held ambition to meet NMP3 came to fruition, when I was invited to debate the issue against a NMP3 representative at Loughborough University. The NMP3 “argument” is almost identical to the anti-porn one that I’ve found so easy to overturn in numerous debates; the big difference is that NMP3 caveat everything they say with “But we’re not anti-sex, we only care about Page 3”.

Thus: Naked models “objectify women” BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ON PAGE 3! WE LOVE PORN!; Bare female breasts contribute to a culture of misogyny and sexism BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ON PAGE 3! WE LOVE BOOBS! And so on…

It’s all so silly, one should laugh; except that 250,000 people have signed a petition on the back of this nonsense, and various public figures, including MPs, have supported the campaign.

The debate itself felt like some combination of Alice Through the Looking Glass and Orwell’s 1984. Bianca, the NMP3 representative, seemed to be treating the occasion as though she were a government minister, sent to appear on Newsnight to defend a policy she didn’t really agree with. So, for example, when I questioned whether she really didn’t have a problem with sexual imagery in general (for example, lads’ mags), she simply refused to answer, saying that her own views were irrelevant, and she had come to represent the official position of NMP3. When I pushed the issue, she embarked on a long, skilled and off-topic ramble of the type that Jeremy Paxman is so often forced to deal with.

Again, asked why NMP3 appears to have strong links with anti-sex organisations and individuals, the response was one of faux outrage: To label NMP3 anti-sex was totally unjustified! (Although I hadn’t actually done that). Yet she refused to provide any clarity as to why NMP3 mingles with anti-sex campaigners when it is a pro-sex organisation. Questioned as to why NMP3 attended the extremist Stop Porn Culture conference in London, she simply denied that they were anti-porn, but didn’t clarify why they had attended. Surely if an “anti-racist” had attended a BNP conference, they would at least have a case to answer.

I was genuinely impressed, and somewhat thrown, by the skilled use of doublespeak. When I pointed out the the lack of any research evidence linking Page 3 with harm against women, Bianca announced that NMP3 have never claimed Page 3 was harmful! And as I tried to stop myself falling off my chair, she then embarked on a speech listing instances of harm caused by Page 3: body image problems, a culture of sexism, and so on. So no evidence of harm, but lots of harm. Who needs evidence when you just know, deep in your heart, that it’s wrong? Again, doublespeak was much in evidence when dealing with the issue of censorship: NMP3 is definitely NOT in favour of banning anything, explained Bianca, before proudly stating that 33 student unions, with the support of NMP3, had voted not to allow sales of the Sun on campus. But – I questioned – isn’t that a ban? No, she replied, because NMP3 don’t call for legislation. The Sun isn’t banned from those 33 campuses. It’s simply not sold because the student unions voted to – er …. No, not ban it! Simply prevent it from being sold. There’s a word for that kind of thing… it’s on the tip of my tongue.

Similar wordplay is in evidence whenever NMP3 talk about their goals. They don’t want to censor anything! They simply want the Sun to remove Page 3 so people can’t see it any more. I was ultimately reduced to suggesting the attendees should look up the words “ban” and “censor” in a dictionary, as well as read 1984, to get an understanding for how skilled NMP3’s abuse of the English language was. Dictionary.com provides this definition of censor: “any person who supervises the manners or morality of others”… and what could better describe a mob of non-Sun readers trying to dictate what Sun readers can look at?

The debate ended with a stereotypical, and comical, student-leftie discussion about “capitalism”: It’s outrageous, claimed a speaker, that Rupert Murdoch is profiting from women! Ignoring the fact that “profit from women” happens anywhere that women choose to work, from banking to sport to journalism to… well, everything. The only solution to this horrible exploitation would be to ban all women from working! And although that may sound snarky, it reveals a truth about much that is said in the name of feminism these days: many self-declared feminists are working to reverse, not defend, the gains of the Women’s Lib movement.

No More Page 3 is establishing a dangerous pro-censorship precedent: that there are cases (or one case, anyway) where imagery of women must be suppressed for the wider good of all decent women and girls. It’s an old, moralistic viewpoint with a new twist. That precedent being established, where would the anti-sex, anti-woman witch-hunt end?

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.

ShirtGate: Fascism Cloaked as Liberalism

For those with a love of science, the story of the week was, of course, the landing of a robot – launched 10 and a half years ago – on a faraway comet. As someone who is still amazed that I can instantly publish an article from a computer in London, that can then be read globally, I lack the words to express my jaw-dropped amazement at this latest accomplishment of mankind.

The mastermind of the mission was Dr Matt Taylor. Like many ultra-intelligent people, Taylor clearly possesses an offbeat personality and quirky outlook on life. Conformity is for the dull of mind. It was hardly unexpected then, that Taylor chose not to wear a grey suit and tie, but instead appeared at a press conference in a bright shirt made for him by an artist friend – a woman. The shirt featured cartoon images of scantily-clad women brandishing guns.

If Taylor had been paying more attention to politics over the past decade, he’d have witnessed the final stages in the collapse of the progressive left, and its replacement with a new set of intolerant, dogmatic, anti-sex, pro-censorship attitudes. But he clearly had more important things to worry about, so he’d missed the rise of a clique of online bullies using feminist language to achieve a very non-feminist goal: the suppression of the idea that women can be sexual beings if they so choose.

During the attacks on Taylor – referred to online as ShirtGate – the online mob made use of a now-standard logical fallacy to attack the shirt: the idea that an image of any woman is an attack on the rights of all women, and thus, any woman who is offended by an image of another woman has the right to attack the image and call for it to be censored. It was also implied – equally ludicrously – that the shortage of female scientists might somehow be linked to such “sexist” shirts – suggesting that women are incredibly weak individuals (and ignoring the fact that anyway, sex isn’t sexist). The tendency for women to attack women-who-dare-to-be-sexual (brilliantly written about this week by a female journalist) is well known – only the language changes to keep up with the times.

To the rest of us who haven’t had to worry about landing a tiny probe on a small, fast comet, the wave of media bullying that Taylor experienced came as no surprise. Anti-sex feminists have been busy in recent years: closing down strip venues, working with religious fundamentalists to strip all rights from sex workers, advising governments to censor the Internet (because, you know, OBJECTIFICATION), and attacking proudly-sexual womanhood in every medium, from pornography to music videos. The left is guilty of attacks on sexuality that the religious right would once have been proud of.

Online witch-hunts by the new, conservative feminism have become popular in the past year or two: where once, “witch” or “communist” were slurs that meant the end of a career or a life, now “misogynist” and “rape apologist” are labels to avoid at all costs. I myself was labelled a “rape apologist” on Twitter for defending the free speech rights of a comedian this week; but I knew I was opening myself to such slurs when I started this campaign. To fight for free expression is to offend those who hate it.

And so we were treated to a sight that brought to my mind the struggle sessions of the Chinese cultural revolution: an intelligent, gentle man reduced to tears as he made a forced apology on TV (this time wearing a plain hoodie. Fascism hates bright colours).

Once a standard bearer for free expression and reason, the left is now increasingly the home of a rising anti-intellectualism, as well as the most puritanical anti-sex attitudes. The sight of a crying scientist confessing to crimes against the sacred purity of womanhood is symbolic of wider attacks on science from the new left, rather than the  right. This week also saw a scientist (this time, a women, Professor Kate Glover) sacked for simply stating a scientific fact: namely, that there is no evidence that genetically-modified organisms are harmful. Calls for her sacking were orchestrated by left MEPs, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. George Orwell, as ever, understood the nature of fascism better than anyone: “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. As if to illustrate the blur as to what “left” and “right” mean any more, a right-wing commentator mockingly compared the intolerant, puritanical attitudes of today’s left with the religious right’s most ludicrous character: When did the left turn into Rick Santorum?

The only silver lining in this is that Dr Taylor, unlike previous victims of the combined feminist-fundamentalist mob, has attracted great sympathy and support from many women and men. Perhaps this time, the “objectification” bullies have overreached themselves. One of the reactions has been a crowd-funding campaign to buy Matt Taylor a gift: click here to donate, and help demonstrate that most people are not nearly as stupid or hateful as ShirtGate might have implied.

Those of us who consider ourselves liberals in the true sense – pro-liberty, free expression and science – must realise that the political spectrum as we knew it has become meaningless. A new, pro-liberty, pro-reason left needs to be built if we are to stop the slide into intolerance, censorship and authoritarianism being pursued with equal vigour by both left and right.

The Censorship of Dapper Laughs

– The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship – George Bernard Shaw

– I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Evelyn Beatrice Hall

In my upcoming book, Porn Panic, I raise a question about the censorship state – specifically the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC), the police and prosecutors – Are They Superhuman? In Britain, all DVD and cinema releases are required, by law, to be certified (and possibly censored) by the BBFC. Obscenity law defines obscene material as that which might “deprave and corrupt” the viewer, listener or reader, and it’s the BBFC’s job to ensure that no such material gets into the public sphere where it might damage our fragile little minds. BBFC examiners watch all submitted material, second-by-second, and recommend cuts if they encounter obscenity. Similarly, police officers who are preparing a case for an obscenity prosecution must sit through hour after hour of depraving and corrupting material. So how is this possible? How can material that depraves and corrupts its audience not deprave and corrupt BBFC examiners, police officers and prosecutors? Are they a different species from us?

I asked the obscenity law specialist, Myles Jackman, for his thoughts on this, and he said: “I’ve have to watch a lot of fairly colourful material in my career, and it doesn’t seem to have had a significant effect on me. Who watches the watchman? Why normal, average members of society are considered to be more sensitive and delicate, I simply can’t answer.”

Censorship is a decision by one group of people to deprive another group of people the right to access some content. At its core, censorship is inherently elitist, and can be nothing else. The censor doesn’t believe that he or she is weak, stupid or brutal enough to be depraved by the material, but believes that other people are. This elitism usually appears in class form, though it can also be linked to sex, sexuality, race or age. Most people don’t think they have the right to censor others, even if they dislike what they watch; but some do. These people, by definition, are elitists.

Elitism rears its head in every single moral panic and act of censorship, without fail. It appears constantly in attempts to censor pornography: “Of course, porn didn’t turn ME into a rapist, but then I’m not one of those people…” It appears among the nice, middle-class ladies of the No More Page 3 campaign, who don’t want to see breasts in a newspaper, and don’t want the Sun’s (mostly working-class) readership to do so either. It appeared in the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial, when the prosecutor asked whether… “you would wish your wife or servants to read”… such books. It appeared during the Video Nasties moral panic, in response to the idea that, thanks to the new VHS technology, ordinary people could now see the kind of uncensored material that had, formerly, only been accessible to the wealthy. It appears now in a new moral panic over computer gaming, in which “the impressionable” are considered at risk of being turned into rapists and murderers.

“The impressionable” are never people like us. They are other. They are poor, or black, or female, or male, or gay, or belong to some other group that we decide to fear or hate. In moral panics, bigotry becomes acceptable – such as this Guardian piece implying that African men don’t have the restraint of white people, and are thus especially prone to being turned into rapists by pornography: “I used to think porn was tremendously good fun… [until in a Ghanaian village, a mud hut is transformed] into an impromptu porn cinema … turning some young men into rapists…” – those primitive Africans, and their rapey ways! And this is in a “liberal” newspaper. As the left has lost touch with its labour roots, it has also become ever more elitist.

Advocates of censorship are certain of their own superiority over those-who-must-be-censored. If they weren’t, it might dawn on them that they don’t have the right to control the behaviour of other people; that they are no better than the people they seek to control. They would instead realise that, while they have the right to boycott material that offends them, the other people also have the right to see it.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the middle and upper classes, already secure in their innate superiority, are the ones who most seek to censor and control the activities of others. Of course, few people ever admit elitism – they instead try to justify their behaviour with spurious claims of harm: “I’m not a prude, but porn turns men into rapists”, “I’m all for free expression, but computer games make people violent”, “Much as I admire the energy and enthusiasm of youth, heavy metal gives power to Satan”, “I’m not a racist, but hip-hop encourages misogynistic attitudes”… “I’m as reasonable as the next person, BUT THOSE PEOPLE ARE DANGEROUS!”

It is a sign of these conservative times that universities, once bastions of free thought and rebellion against the status quo, have become increasingly censored places. The excuses for campus censorship tend to sound vaguely progressive, but (as the quote at the start of this article makes clear) censorship is anathema to progressives. Conservatism in progressive clothing is the order of the day.

The latest target of campus censorship is a comedian called Dapper Laughs (DL), who has a show on ITV2. I hadn’t heard of him until a week or so ago, when an explosion of outrage erupted on Twitter. Personally, I’m of the opinion that “ITV comedy” is an oxymoron. See – I’m an elitist too!

This latest moral panic began when a Cardiff University student, Vicky Chandler, began a petition to block DL from performing at the university, based on the fact that he’d been recorded telling jokes about rape. No evidence has been presented – it should go without saying by now – that men hear jokes about rape, and then go on to commit rape. The beer sold in the Cardiff student union bar is far more likely to have been involved in sexual assaults than any comedy act. But to call for alcohol to be banned from campus would a truly brave act*, whereas calling for a “sexist” comedian to be banned is guaranteed to win applause and admiration for Chandler from those looking for the next pro-censorship hero.

So the students that might have wanted to see DL, and decide for themselves, are told they’re not allowed to. Because they’re not clever enough to see (alleged) sexism without endangering the female population of Cardiff. Only the elite can decide what is suitable for the entire Cardiff student body to see or hear, and the elite have signed Chandler’s petition. Game over. Predictably, once a few-hundred signatures had been received, the gig was cancelled. Then ITV announced DL would not have another series. But the witch-hunt was just beginning.

The Twitter hysteria followed a pattern which has become tediously familiar: person found guilty of “hate speech” (without the need for a messy trial – who needs due process?); those that question the verdict are accused of supporting hate speech, as are those who defend the right to free speech on principle. Attempts at reasoned discussion are futile (OMG I can’t fucking believe you support violence against women!!!, etc.) Lynch-mobs have no need to hear alternative viewpoints, and the risk of being publicly branded a misogynist is enough of a deterrent for most people to keep quiet.

Supporters of the ban tried to deny this act of censorship was, in fact. censorship, and claimed this had been a democratic process, because everybody had the right to sign the petition, or organise a counter-petition. If this is democracy, it’s an ugly variety – more commonly known as tyranny of the majority. And not even a true majority – just the small number of elitists that decided they should have control over the viewing habits of the quiet majority. This is a fascistic interpretation of democracy, and has chilling implications for all the minorities that might next face censorship-by-petition. As a Jew (we make up 0.3% of the UK population) with mixed-race kids (they constitute 2%), this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. But hey – the elite would never turn on us, would they?

This country, once the birthplace of Enlightenment values, has lost touch with the meaning and purpose of liberal thought. Free speech must, by definition, include bad speech, and (as the old saying goes) the antidote to bad speech is good speech. Allow an elite to deem (without a hint of due process) certain speech to be unacceptable, and freedom is fundamentally lost.

Chandler herself has showed a deep ignorance of liberal values by declaring herself qualified to determine the limits of free speech for everybody. While justifying herself, she tweeted “offending a religion isn’t freedom of speech, it’s hate”. But to offend is a basic right. I find Chandler’s utterances offensive in their dangerous ignorance as to what constitutes free speech, but still, I defend her right to her ignorance, and her right to shout it from the rooftops. All speech that has any value will offend somebody; without the right to offend majority values, the feminist and civil rights movements would have been crushed before they had begun.

But many of today’s “progressives” come from a different school. They use liberal language to cloak the fascistic idea that some viewpoints can be crushed by a small, active group. The censorship of Dapper Laughs is a victory for a censorious elite that is growing in strength by the day.

* For clarity: no, I don’t support bans on alcohol either.

PS: a quick look at Dapper Laughs’ Twitter mentions reveals more people (male and female) regretting the closure of his career than rejoicing in it. But sorry folks, you can’t enjoy your comedy. The elite have spoken.

Treat Strippers as Workers, not Victims!

Stripper Activist Stacey Clare is angry…

I have a confession to make. It’s not in anyway salacious, sorry to disappoint. In fact, once I start explaining the background to it, you may well lose interest. But stick with this, because I have a shocking revelation to make about lap dancing and strip clubs. I’m still reeling from it myself.

To add some context, I am co-founder and member of a group of strippers called the East London Strippers Collective. I call myself a stripper activist these days, since someone needs to be. I have been banging on about the state of the strip club industry for almost as long I have been working in it. Since day one, I quickly recognised the injustice of clubs running their business models predicated not only on sales of drinks to customers and door entry fees, but also the amounts of money they can extort from the girls working in them, in the form of house fees and charges.

So, I started educating myself. I made use of my time as a student to make sense of what I was doing. I trawled through decades of feminist theory, explored what little academic research was available, and even bothered to get down to the nitty-gritty legislation itself. Reading actual white paper documents is hardly sexy, but from my point of view, knowing your rights and being able to uphold them is sexy as FUCK. In 2008 I eventually wrote a dissertation about licensing legislation and I had a pretty good idea of what was happening in my industry. The Licensing Act 2003 boosted the night time economy and opened up new markets – one of which was the adult entertainment industry. Lap dancing clubs proliferated under the new licensing regime that allowed them to operate with a public entertainment license. Between 2004 and 2008 lap dancing clubs were popping up in every town across the nation, at one stage opening at the rate of one per week.

Still with me? Ok, great.

I was working a lot during this period, and I remember dancing for the opening weekend of a club in Sunderland. I remember how appalling the management were, and how oversubscribed the club was with dancers – all paying a hefty house fee, making up a reasonable portion of the club’s income. And while we all hustled for private dances among the few blokes who had dared to become patrons of a controversial new business in their town centre, breaking our backs in plastic shoes to scrape together a couple of hundred quid, the proprietors of the club were comfortably watching the money rolling in by the minute. Something was dreadfully wrong with this business model.

Just as I was handing in my dissertation, a political campaign led by prohibitionist womens’ rights groups Object and the Fawcett Society, resulted in a parliamentary debate and a subsequent change in licensing law around lap dancing clubs. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 gave local authorities new powers to control the spread of the industry and limit the numbers of existing licenses. No longer able to operate with only a Public Entertainment license, lap dancing and strip clubs must now comply with tighter licensing objectives, and an SEV license is now needed. SEV stands for Sexual Entertainment Venue.

Now, SEV licenses have actually been around a lot longer than this, in fact since the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Back then SEV stood for Sex Encounter Venue – which sounds a bit clinical and sinister. None-the-less, councils did already have at one stage the power to impose SEV licensing objectives on local sex industry businesses. Quite how the loophole happened and why licensing authorities were handing out public entertainment licenses to strip joints up and down the land, defeats me. It was good for business I suppose. But the actual realities of these clubs appeared to be going right under the noses of licensing officials, who turned a blind eye to their business practises.

So that’s when the feminists got involved. And with the help of some heavy weight journalists and academics, and the voices of several ex-dancers who had quit the industry after experiencing the exploitation going on in it, they won the fight to reclassify lap dancing clubs under the more honest and suitable title of Sexual Entertainment Venue. (Thanks to the hard work and brave efforts of those fighting the side of the clubs, in particular one dancer known as Solitaire, who enlisted the support of the performers union Equity, the term Sex Encounter was changed to Sex Entertainment for the purposes of wording the legislation.)

That’s when things took a turn for the worse. In my mind, there was a major oversight throughout every stage of the consultations that took place during the lead up to the licensing reform. That dancers themselves were not legitimately consulted and represented, that they did not have an effectual voice in the debate, neither in the media nor in parliament, has had a highly detrimental effect on our jobs and working environments. Unsurprisingly, the level of taboo attached to the job, and the marginalisation that dancers suffer as a consequence of doing it, means individuals prefer to remain anonymous and are unlikely to come forth and contribute their views and opinions for fear of judgement and social chastisement. Thus decisions are made on our behalf by those who make assumptions about us. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place – no pun intended.

So here we are 5 years later. What’s changed? Well at first glance not much. And in terms of how clubs operate by charging girls money to work in them and offering little or nothing in return regarding job security or comfortable working conditions, nothing has changed. In fact in some cases, it is getting worse.

This is where my confession comes in. And if you have stuck with me this far, then you deserve something juicy. So, in my capacity as a stripper activist I have known about the licensing reform since before it even happened. I have griped about it ever since. And in this last 5 years that I have been working under this new licensing regime, I have never actually bothered to sit down and read the Policing and Crime Act 2009.

I know right? Lazy girl.

Last week was the first time I finally got round to it – between doing an interview for VICE and promoting our upcoming event (a public talk about licensing) it seemed like the right time.

Boy, did I get a shock. Anyone who either works as a stripper, or engages as a customer should see this. In fact anyone with a vested or personal interest in upholding and protecting the right to engage with any form of sex work should see this.

The Policing and Crime Act 2009, consists of 9 Parts, and 117 Sections, of which Part 2, Section 27 Regulation of lap dancing and other sexual entertainment venues etc. is the new law used to control SEV licensing. Part 2, titled Sexual Offences and Sex Establishments contains 14 sections, each relating to a particular type of offence. For example Section 14 Paying for sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force etc., or Section 16 Amendment to offence of loitering etc for purposes of prostitution. In real language this legislation is talking about the crimes of trafficking and street walking. Section 18 deals with Rehabilitation of offenders, while Sections 22-25 deal with sexual tourists who travel abroad to commit sexual abuse on children, which would be considered a crime in this country. Section 26 handles those who choose to view child pornography online. And then comes Section 27 – lap dancing clubs.

WHAT THE FUCK???

As I reread this document I can feel again the rising sense of disgust and anger… What the hell does my job have to do with SEX OFFENDERS? Rapists and paedophiles in the same category as strippers and punters!!!!?

I MEAN, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK????

This stops here. And I mean it stops.

From what I can see, the very fact that licensing legislation for lap dancing clubs is included in a law that deals with crime and disorder is a clear move towards criminalisation of lap dancing. There is a clear moral campaign that seeks to stamp out all aspects of sex work by criminalising it, and lap dancing is now on the target range. Being lumped in with a general list of offences is not only misleading but degrading – as if somehow all acts of sex work are indicative of abuse. To conflate stripping with trafficking, and acts of sexual violence effectively means that strippers are by law represented as victims of abuse, which is turn sets a very dangerous precedent. When we allow this type of merger it eventually becomes all the more difficult to discern and distinguish those who are genuine victims of abuse, and those who aren’t.

In all the years I have been working as a stripper, I have never, not once in any of the clubs I have worked in, seen evidence of strippers being trafficked. I do know however that there are girls working in some clubs who are being coerced and controlled by club owners and bosses. I know which clubs have the tell tale signs,

I hear the rumours because I am in that world. Yes, there are abuses in my industry, yes there are poor working conditions and exploitative business practises. So, who asked me what I thought about changing the law? Who offered to help us when all this evidence was coming out in Parliament? Who gave us a voice?

Oh yeah, they did give us a voice. They let us change 1 word – from “encounter” to “entertainment”.

Our group, the East London Strippers Collective, has come together out of a shared grievance over the problems in the industry. And as we start to scratch beneath the surface, we discover that these issues are compounded by empty licensing that offers no help, no protection or security, and, thanks to the further stigmatisation of our workplace, pushes us further out onto the fringes of social acceptability, leaving us even more vulnerable than before.

To truly tackle problematic conditions in any industry, governments should use employment law to uphold the rights of workers. So long as strippers have no rights, and continue to fall through the net of employment protection, they will be exploited. Even self-employed people have rights to negotiate with their business associates and clients, yet the industry we work in affords us none of these freedoms, as we scrabble around doing our best to look sexy while we fear for our jobs from one day to the next.

We demand a revision of the current licensing law, and for the voices of those who choose to work in the industry (not just those who have left it) to be reconsidered. We need to re-examine the motivations of those who seek to stigmatise and criminalise our profession, and remove the venues in which we do it. We want to be recognised as workers like any others, and to be acknowledged by law as independent autonomous citizens with free will, who have consciously chosen to walk the controversial path of sex work because, believe it or not, there is some benefit for those who do it.

We have a long way to go, but there is no doubt in my mind that if we do not challenge the aspects of society that seek to destroy beauty and creativity, we are a very sick society indeed. Licensing may be dull and exhausting, but when we fail to engage, laws like this one sneak through Parliament. Suddenly we find ourselves defined by terms we have not chosen and certainly don’t want.

Not only that, but if there’s one thing I know in my bones, it’s that when I can do it on my own terms, when I want, where I want, for whom I choose… I bloody love to strip.