The Guardian’s Sexual Hang-Ups

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo courtesy Millie Robson Photography

The British press is among the best in the world. And among the worst. We have some of the most intelligent journalism that can be found anywhere, but also some of the most moronic. There are five daily newspapers (Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent and FT), from across the political spectrum, that are worth reading; of these, the Guardian often stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to providing high-quality journalism. The Guardian, for example, carries much of the credit for exposing the corruption at Murdoch’s News International. When it comes to challenging dangerous abuse of power within the British state and corporations, The Guardian is often alone in publishing stories ignored by the rest of the British media.

At a time when social conservatism is on the rise in many pernicious ways, it was good to see a Guardian article yesterday by Zoe Margolis (aka The Girl With The One Track Mind) challenging the anti-sex crusade spear-headed in parliament by rightwing Tory MP Nadine Dorries. And yet, on the broad subject area of sex and sexuality, The Guardian, more often than not, comes down on the side of repression. The paper comes very much from the liberal, middle-class, English tradition, and the one subject the English middle-classes have always had trouble dealing with is sex. The Guardian also tends to take anti-sex campaigners more seriously if they adopt the “feminist” label than if they crusade under a more old-fashioned “morality” banner. On this subject, the Guardian’s coverage can swing from liberal to deeply conservative in the blink of an eye.

I blogged recently about the UK Government’s steps towards Internet censorship, using the excuse of “protecting children from pornography”. The Guardian, normally a warrior against censorship, lost its mind in an editorial on the subject, using Daily Mail-type phrasing such as “…bombarding of people’s homes and children by pornography…” and “…the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values…“. The editorial also mentioned a recent government-commissioned report on “sexualisation”, neglecting to mention that it came from a Christian lobbying organisation. The idea that anyone who doesn’t want to see porn is “bombarded” with it is of course laughable, and serious research on porn has yet to reveal the harmful side effects claimed by conservatives of various shades.

And this wasn’t a one-off: on the icky subject of sex, The Guardian is often deeply conservative. I recently interviewed strippers who are defending themselves against campaigners who threaten their right to work in the London boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets (podcast coming soon). These women are articulate, well-paid and belong to trade unions. Yet, the Guardian is apparently convinced that stripping is bad, and refuses to take seriously the voices of the women themselves who earn a living that way; instead, they give a platform to “feminist” (aka sexual morality) groups who use fascist-style propaganda methods (such as claiming a non-existent link between strip venues and rape) to attack the venues and the people who work in them. While women who strip have offered to write for the Guardian about their experiences, only one ex-dancer, Homa Khaleeli is published, because she tells “the truth about lap dancing” – in other words, she makes the “exploitation” and “objectification” noises that Guardianistas want to hear.

The Guardian has a confused idea of defending sexual freedom. While Gay, Lesbian, Transgender issues are treated with the appropriate straight-faced correctness, other forms of sexuality and sexual freedom have Guardian journos giggling like school children. Fetishes, swinging, polyamory, BDSM, open lifestyles, bisexuality and sex work… these aren’t causes for free speech but excuses for The Guardian to pander to middle-England prejudices (and have a good, Carry On giggle in the process).

It’s not that I’m asking for the Guardian to become a campaigner for sexual freedom; but it should be delivering the quality of journalism it does so well elsewhere. Repeating misinformation about porn leading to marriage break-up, lap dancing leading to rape or most prostitutes being “victims” isn’t good journalism. Accepting the word of a woman simply because she calls herself a feminist but ignoring the many voices of women who earn their money this way isn’t fair or balanced. Ignoring researchers in these fields but listening to morality campaigners lets down the readership.

It’s not that The Guardian is the worst offender – not by a long way! – but it’s the one (or am I being naive?) that should “know better”. In fact, the most level-headed coverage of sex and the sex industries comes from the Financial Times and its stable mate The Economist, but these are targeted primarily at business people. Among mainstream press, the Guardian, often alone, has the courage to expose police brutality and corporate corruption. Why not maintain the same high standards on the difficult subjects of sex and sexuality? Up your game Guardian, and stop being so damn English about sex!

19 thoughts on “The Guardian’s Sexual Hang-Ups”

  1. The Guardian seem far from liberal in recent years, and there’s been way too much cosying up to and obfuscation with extremely reactionary religious bigots, and spokesmen from designated terror organisations such as Hamas. They even accidentally employed an Islamist extremist who was member of the banned MAC group of people.

    Jonathan Steele recently called large swathes of the (obv Muslim) Tunisian people “Islamophobic” for opposing an Islamist party. Crazy.

    It’s also recently been suggested by a senior journalist they are consciously positioning themselves as The newspaper for Muslims, with 3 million that is quite a target audience. That could just be bollocks, though.

    The anti-sex stance is ridiculous, and as you say clothed in feminist rhetoric, almost as if to subdue any dissent with guilt. Weird.

    Look forward to the day when the Guardian returns to it’s liberal roots.

  2. Only yesterday the Guardian’s web editor, Jonathan Haynes was ridiculing the idea that women could consume and enjoy pornography. I pointed out that the most articulate and advanced commentary on the area all comes from women, many of whom have experience of the sex industry.

    The Guardian relegates any pro-sex, pro-porn coverage to their CiF section, perhaps because it will incense those readers who like to discuss articles in a comments section, and boost their web stats without fracturing their veneer of morality. If the rumours about the financial troubles at GMG are true, the paper may go web-only, in which case it will either become even more marginalised, or, as you hope, it will develop its editorial judgement to be slightly more progressive and inclusive.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this. Myself and many -global- colleagues in journalism and sex education combined have been deeply troubled by the Guardian’s bias and unwillingness to check facts or sources when reporting on and running items about pornography or articles authored by anti-porn crusaders. It is deeply disappointing to have the Guardian be a pinnacle when it comes to NotW yet sink to the level of Daily Mail when the subject is sex. By doing so they harm the very discussions they should be illuminating.

    I’ve been chronicling this for a while now (more examples of the Guardian’s bias can be provided, including in my work for CBSi), and thanks again for joining in on calling out the Guardian to raise its standards – and join us in the current century.

  4. Thanks for the feedback. As Zoe pointed out in her article, something needs to be done. It’s no coincidence that the rise of fascism in the 1930s involved huge attacks on sexual freedom. The authoritarian swing of society, begun in 2001 using terrorism as the excuse will take all our freedoms unless we make a stand.

    (Marvin, as you know, I believe the “Muslim threat” is a concoction designed to make people afraid. I loath political correctness, but even more I loath attacks on a huge number of people based on the idiotic acts of a tiny handful. The “Muslim threat” will dissipate the moment we withdraw our troops from Muslim countries where they have no business being).

    1. Further my misguided friend, you’ve contradicted yourself.

      How can it simultaneously be a concoction to make people afraid, AND the threat will dissipate if we just remove all troops from Muslim countries?

      Which, by the way, we’ll have withdrawn our troops from Afghanistan in 2014 and already they have withdrawn from Iraq. There are no troops in Libya.

      Thanks for allowing my dissenting comments on your blog.



  5. Excellent piece.

    Not sure about saying that “The Guardian often stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to providing high-quality journalism” though.

    I would call myself a Guardian-reader but only because it’s a byword for leftie which itself is a catch-all. As it is I read a bit of everything. It has such a confused agenda (as your piece so rightly points out) and this detracts hugely from the quality (or not) of its journalism. I think it also depends how you define good journalism. From a news-gathering perspective I would argue that the Telegraph is easily a contender and even (shock horror) the Mail. Quality journalism isn’t limited to stuff-you-agree-with.

    Also, you describe the FT as being the stablemate of the Econ which isn’t strictly true.

    Ok, I’m done being pedantic 😉 – really agree with a lot of what you’re saying here. I am sick of being described as a ‘porn apologist’ a la Julie Bindel’s piece after the conviction of Vincent Tabak. Appreciate she’s not talking about me personally but this attitude is so infuriating. If anything it is more so for its obtuseness on the subject of human psychology (“porn makes you evil”) than for its understanding of porn. She also lumps prostitution in with porn… as though watching porn and visiting prostitutes are the same thing and as though either of these have any bearing on whether somebody is a potential murderer.

  6. When reading stories in UK papers that involve sex, porn and prostitution, I think I would replace the word Conservative with Juvenile.
    Many of the male writers seem to revert to 14 being year old boys hiding a Playboy magazine under their bed again.

  7. Moronwatch

    What about the daily sectarian terror attacks on Shia, Sunni,Druze, Baihi, or Christian in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon?

    These sects are imagining it are they? Or it’s a conncoction of the imperialist West? If the West just went away the sectarianism would stop?

    I hadn’t taken you for a CHomskyite/Fiskite.

    Unbelievably naive mate. Really.

  8. @Tim Arrowsmith

    Just went back and read the tweets, and I’m not sure you’re reporting your conversation with @jonathanhaynes accurately. Here:!/timarrowsmith/status/137104703484985345

    .. you quote him saying “men on Twitter are telling me how women love porn”. That’s not really the same as saying that women don’t like porn; just pointing out the oddity of men eagerly answering on their behalf.

    On another note, even the Mail Online had a supportive story about transsexual model Andrej Pejic today, so maybe the tone is changing.

  9. I Have Read The F.T Every Day For Years, And Also The Guardian On & Off (Usually For Something To Read On Daily Train Journeys).

    The F.T Editorials On Many Issues Encluding Employment And American Politics In It’s Salient Pro DemocratObama Stance, Have Been At Times More Liberal Than The Guardian.

  10. Well sorry I missed this I have only recently started to read due to the issues with the messages against striptease. If you check who is Object’s Patron it will give you some idea why a certain paper is so one sided. Polly Toynbee isn’t known for her objective view but backing Object just says it all.

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