Tag Archives: feminism

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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Calling Anti-Porn Feminists!

On July 22nd, the female-run site Sssh.com will host a live debate titled “Women in porn: shattering the myths”.

Or at least, they would like to. The problem being that they can’t find anybody to put the anti-porn case. It’s not as if there’s any lack of anti-porn women. There are plenty of campaigners prepared to write endless column inches or countless books about the evils of pornography; numerous (lucrative) speaking tours take place to spread the word that porn is a serious threat to women and children.

But debates, it seems, are a different matter. So here is a shout out to anti-porn feminists. Hey Object! Yo UK Feminista! Ahem Gail Dines! Please mail Mindbrowse if you would like to take part.

The debate (or cordial discussion) will take place at MindBrowse.com on 22nd July at 3pm EST (8pm UK time), and will be live-tweeted using the hashtag #WomenInPorn. It will feature Cindy Gallop, Kelly Holland and Ashley Fires.

East London Strippers Fight Back

Attacked by feminists on one side, and victims of poor employment practices on the other, strippers have had little support in their battles. We welcome new blogger Stacey Clare, who is a stripper and a founder member of the East London Strippers Collective.

It is said that when written down the Chinese word for “crisis” forms two characters. When translated into English these characters are understood literally to mean “danger” and “opportunity”. Right now it could be said there is a crisis within the adult entertainment industry, as legislation that seeks to censor the “threat” of open, honest and public expressions of sexual desire is gaining increasingly stronger footholds in Parliament. UK strip clubs are rapidly becoming a bastion in the battleground between freedom of self-expression and prohibitionist politics.

2014 is a time of crisis. Economic disparity and ecological disaster, mass unemployment and social unrest combine to create a climate of uncertainty. The future is unforeseeable, and no one is accountable – the perfect circumstances within which exploitation can thrive. Exploitation of labour in a capitalist framework is one thing; exploitation of sex-workers happens outside of a UK judicial system, which supposedly protects its citizens… Those that operate within the legal framework that is. Those who don’t probably deserve what’s coming to them right?

At this point in history, cases of employee discrimination that can be proven result in employment tribunals, yet strip club bosses and managers get away scot-free with discriminatory working practises of eye-watering magnitude. Strippers are regularly classified and discriminated against on account of breast-size, body-shape or skin colour, sacked without notice for any reason, fined for having chipped nails, bullied and intimidated by their superiors and customers alike. Why? Because strippers are denied employment status, leaving them with no legal protection whatsoever, despite in almost all cases being treated as employees, regardless of their right to independence. Employment rights of strippers simply do not exist, and there is no forum to speak out. However, let’s not forget that out of crisis comes opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the arrival of the East London Strippers Collective. In April 2014, the ELSC held their first official meeting at a private location in Bethnal Green. There was a surprisingly good turn out of dancers, nearly all familiar with each other through the existing dancer community, and each bringing with them a wealth of experience working in the strip clubs of London. The power of this shared experience was tangibly felt in the room. A collaborative effort was made to organise a communal meal, followed by an open discussion around the dinner table that can only be described as… empowering.

What strippers have in common is simply, precisely that they have all been there. They’ve all tackled the same adversity, they’ve all been up against the same walls. They all share the embodied knowledge and experience of that feeling being onstage, nailing a strip routine and showcasing their strength and talent to an appreciative and supportive audience. They all know how demeaning it feels to hustle for tips, to fight amongst each other like cats for scraps.

There is a small but powerful group of these women who are bored of complaining about it and are now quietly discussing a better set-up. Using their working knowledge and combined wisdom, they are slowly and carefully creating a new movement; a manifesto is taking shape, underpinned by the principle of respect and the combined desire to create value and beauty. Among them are a wealth of resources and talents, as artists, designers, fitness instructors, nutritionists, writers, photographers, costumiers, and businesswomen all make up the core group. There is a buzzing almost electric potential that if they can consolidate their talents, as well as their sexual prowess, they could be an unstoppable tour de force.

There are droves of dancers who refuse to identify themselves as sex-workers, preferring instead the more evasive labels like dancer, performer, strip-tease artists or adult entertainers. The ELSC are strippers. The clue is in the name. While the ELSC openly and honestly stands in solidarity with other sex workers, it identifies a clear problem; organisations such as the International Union of Sex Workers and the Sex Workers Open University fail to represent the specific and very different agenda for strippers’ rights. Their advocacy for sex workers is invaluable and important, not in any way to be undermined or degraded – clearly however there is a significant gap where a union for strippers ought to be. By beginning to self-organise and collaborate, the ELSC is planning a series of events, from private parties to public talks, with the aim of creating a new audience who would rather be entertained by a group of radical, educated and self-reliant women, sharing their skills as well as the profits.

And undoubtedly, advocacy for strippers is needed. Already this year Diane Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull, North, has put forth the first reading of a private members bill, to ensure local authorities have greater powers to crack down on strip clubs, whether they want to or not. Existing laws give councils the option to enforce a nil policy and tighter controls on premises with a Sex Entertainment Venue license. Quite how these options can be written into statute and enforced is another thing altogether, which seems to beg the question; how well thought out is this private members bill? Sure it’s not just a stunt to curry favour with a particular pressure group and their associated electorate?

The ELSC has come together out of a shared sense of outrage and disgust among dancers, who have watched the decline in their industry and felt powerless to prevent it worsening. They have looked on, heartbroken, as their art form has been consistently dragged into the gutter; ideologically by the modern feminist movement who would seek to destroy their world, and literally by the grotesque working conditions imposed by industry operators motivated purely by profit. They seek to challenge current standards and set precedents within the industry itself, create our own set of working conditions in line with their agreed principles, and send out the message to wider society that, despite what the world thinks, they love what they do. If only they would get the chance to do it properly.

Belle Knox Defends Kink in New Column for XOJane

We as performers have rights to express ourselves and as long as everything is consensual and legal, then more power to everyone involved.

Part of the criticism Belle Knox, the Duke University Pornstar and Student, has attracted as focused on the fact that her first adult film she shot was for an infamously rough adult web site – Facial Abuse.

The overwhelming criticism I have received for my participation in this rough blowjob scene is incredibly revealing to me about the condemnation-happy state of “gotcha feminism.”

Although Knox has said she ultimately regretted shooting for the rough sex site in New York – it would be “the one choice” she’d take back if she could – she does not regret or condemn the impulses that led her to shoot the scene in the first place but more importantly she defends her choice as a Woman to be able to shoot such a scene.

In her XOJane column Knox writes:

We play around with roles and identities while we are working out issues that are long buried in our subconscious. I’m an ambitious young woman. I’m a student at Duke. I’m a slut who needs to be punished.

Can you guess which one of those is a role?

She goes on to identify a moment in her childhood where she believes the idea of submissiveness first presented itself whilst playing ‘house’ with a friend and unknowingly at the time being aroused “mentally and physically” by that experience.

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I can’t explain why rough sex and pain arouses me; it just does.

“So getting spit on and degraded is feminism now?” – a quote from a post that Knox chooses to highlight in her column to which she responds:

Sure. Whatever choice a woman is making and she is the one deciding to do — reclaiming the agency behind the decision to do, even if it is a degrading sexual act — is absolutely feminism. To me, feminism is about women not being shamed but rather being empowered.

It’s clear from the lengthy column that Knox’s view on sex is simple, its not overly complex yet for mainstream Society the ideas behind Knox’s arguments are still too difficult for them to try and understand.

Yes, a Google search reveals pictures of me in hard-core sexual experiences. No, that Google search is not me.

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I would recommend reading Knox’s latest column over at XOJane.com, its a true insight into that path that led Knox in to the hardcore adult entertainment industry without all the noise about tuition fees and expensive education. It delves deeper than that into her sexual and personal development.

Some Questions for “Stop Porn Culture”

Recently I have had the ‘pleasure’ of engaging in active debate & discussion with members & supporters of Stop Porn Culture (referred to as SPC from hereon). It’s no secret that I legitimately enjoy a good intense rigorous debate but when it comes to SPC members & supporters I feel flustered. It’s not because they are getting the better of me, it’s not because I can’t find studies/facts against their claims, it’s due to the fact that I can produce studies/facts that dismiss more than a fair share of Dr. Dines arguments. Yet they ignore these and engage in childish behaviors such as name calling, slut shaming & accusations.

In my previous article  I had addressed some concerns that I had about research methods used by SPC, the lack of including homosexual/transgendered/lesbian/female on male humiliation pornography in her (Gail Dines) studies. I correctly predicted a response of ‘most lesbian porn being used by males for their enjoyment’, thus it contributes to patriarchy & the degradation of women. While I do agree that some lesbian porn is more than likely targeted at heterosexual males & heterosexual couples, this statement ignored my other questions & concerns about SPC’s focus. I still stand by my beliefs that if you are against an industry, you shouldn’t cherry pick bits & pieces to fit into your agenda.

Furthering my point on SPC’s bullying, slut shaming, passive agressive snarkiness, I recently stumbled upon this gem while checking my Twitter feed. A retweet of Gail Dines’ making a snide boorish response to my article with this tweet (In case it’s removed by Dines, the quote was “@LaniacUSA @PornPanic @bindelj We don’t have lesbians in SPC. We make everyone take a heterosexual test and swear allegiance to marriage!” . Seriously? She has a PhD, yes a doctoral degree in sociology, is the chair of a college department & head of a international organization (SPC) & cannot (or will not) garner up a better response than a somewhat infantile holier-than-thou approach. Yet, when anyone with conflicting views of SPC posts anything remotely similar they scream & cry afoul. Gail I’m a grown woman with a college education, please don’t resort to elementary-middle school playground style rhetoric & attempts at satire. Just answer the questions & address the criticism with facts or don’t respond.

A question that Gail has been asking women to attending her seminars/conferences & classes has been “Do you shave your public hair?”. Gail believes that the act of shaving ones’ genitals is a part of an ‘ever growing porn culture’ & feeds pedophile type of urges. I disagree with her for a variety of reasons. Apologies in advance for my going into TMI mode; I personally shave (or at least groom) my pubic hair & genital regions for numerous reasons. The first being personal hygiene during my menstrual cycle, I have awful menstrual cycles that will often leak no matter what method of containing I use. I do not enjoy getting blood clots tangled in my nether regions.

Secondly, as I have mentioned, I’m lesbian (not that it should matter) & my last partner had tongue & genital piercings, you can probably imagine how much that hurt when not shaving.

Thirdly, why does this even matter? It’s not Gail’s or anyone elses’ business of the reasoning behind to shave or not to shave (especially consenting grown adults). What’s next is Gail going to go after the razor industry? However all points aside… my questions are if a MALE professor had asked a group of young college aged girls this same question would it be appropriate? Would Gail & SPC throw a tantrum demanding that the professor be stripped of his credentials & charged with sexual harassment? What about beards? If Gail has so much criticism of shaving pubic hairs, why hasn’t she spoke out about women demanding their male mates shave their beards to make them more kissable?

As always stay safe, think for yourself & be kind
– Kat Cooper

Please feel free to follow me on twitter @RealKatCooper & I can be also found on Facebook.

Sephy Hallow Objects to Objectification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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