Posing As Progressives

Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse
Gail Dines: The New Mary Whitehouse

It’s been one of those weeks when I fall out with some of my, usually friendly, followers. When you’re a leftish political blogger, there are safe things to write about, and things you shouldn’t mention. Social equality, fairness, child poverty, saving the NHS, racism against non-whites, attacks on women’s rights, climate change, corporate power; these are all things that I know I can tackle without dissent from others on the left. There will be, of course, attacks from the right, but those are bread-and-butter. We can all unite and enjoy rebutting those. Career tip: if you want to become a Labour parliamentary candidate, and you write the occasional column, but don’t want to ruffle feathers? Stick to these subjects (no names mentioned).

Then, there are the subjects that confuse many on the left – so they generally don’t mention them, for example: racism by non-whites, domestic violence against men, use of the word “cunt”. And of perhaps most of all, sex. Sex, being the subject that raises the most primal feelings in us – whether negative or positive – divides all parts of the political spectrum. The left has a series of simple check-boxes to guide it through this minefield: Gay rights? Approved. Abortion rights? OK. Rights for sexual fetishists? Erm… Union rights for sex workers? Sounds of left-wing heads exploding.

Now let’s turn things around for a moment. If you were a social conservative ideologue, in Britain, in 2013, how would you go about popularising your ideas? This would be easy enough in America: you say that public nudity is immoral. Because the Bible says so. You say that Muslims are bad because… well, they’re not Christians are they? But things aren’t so easy for the British reactionary. The British have largely abandoned religion – at least, the type you actively believe in. So what would you do? You’d do what clever reactionaries do: adopt progressive camouflage.

Both sexual morality groups and racist bigots have successfully adopted this approach, and in doing so, have blended into the liberal mainstream. The last well-known sexual morality group was Mary Whitehouse‘s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (now known as Mediawatch UK). This made some headway in the 80s, before being laughed off-stage in the more relaxed 90s. Taking note of this, the new moralists took a leaf from an American lawyer called Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon came from impeccable right-wing stock – her father was a right-wing Republican Senator. In the 1980s, MacKinnon (with her sidekick Andrea Dworkin) took a sexual conservative message, wrapped it in superficially feminist language, and succeeded in fundamentally splitting the feminist movement in two – a divide that has existed ever since. The MacDworkinites did more damage to feminism than any misogynistic man ever could.

The MacDworkinites are going from strength to strength. MacKinnon’s natural successors are Gail Dines – a deeply reactionary anti-sex activist who campaigns for media censorship and a ban on sex work using feminist and Marxist language, and a number of conservative groups, self-labelling as “feminist”. The best known MacDworkinite groups in the UK are Object and UK Feminista – who will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. The latest to appear on the scene is the current campaign against the topless photo on Page 3 of the Sun.

It’s amazing what a small shift in vocabulary can do. Because the MacDworkinites refer to themselves as “feminist”, then anyone who opposes them must be against feminism, right? It’s sad that sections of the left are so easily fooled, but indeed, the strategy has worked impeccably. Are these groups actually a conservative offshoot of feminism, or conservatives who have infiltrated feminism from the outside? It doesn’t matter – that’s a simple matter of classification. You can call them anti-sex feminists or anti-sex “feminists” – either way, they are reactionary. The early second-wave feminists implored women to abandon their bras. These new groups beg women to put their bras back on.

The same methodology has worked wonders in demonising Muslims in secular Europe. Far-right pundits like Pat Condell attack Muslims – not from a religious perspective, but from an atheist one. Muslims are, (they say) “less civilised” than we, secular European are. They chop off heads and run kebab shops in London (of course, the Muslims cutting off heads aren’t the same ones selling kebabs to drunk Brits – but who’s counting?)

Such gullibility on the left saddens me. Both left and right have become riddled with conservatism, and well-meaning people have swallowed this reactionary propaganda. Meanwhile, Object’s attacks on women sex workers continue – supported blindly by middle-class women who think sex work is common and icky. And atheist fascists like Condell convince atheists that attacking minorities is OK – if it’s done in the name of Enlightenment.

The alternative is what I’ve labelled Social Libertarianism: social democracy combined with an unshakeable commitment to free expression, free speech, freedom of religion and sexual freedom, and an equally tenacious opposition to all forms of censorship. It’s not new – it’s what the left used to stand for.

27 thoughts on “Posing As Progressives”

  1. It’s worth having a look at Wikipedia’s entry on Gail Dines.


    Excerpt below:

    In 2011, Dines was invited alongside fellow anti-pornography activist Shelley Lubben to debate against Anna Span at the University of Cambridge when it proposed the motion “This house believes that pornography does a good public service.”[6] Dines did not sway the house, which decided 231 to 187 against her views.[7][8] Dines said her opponents won because the chamber consisted mostly of “18-22 year old males who are using pornography on a regular basis.”[9]

    The reviews of her books produced suggest that

    The author’s appropriation of addiction terminology — viewers are called users, habitual viewing is an addiction, and pornography featuring teenagers is called Pseudo-Child Pornography or PCP — is distracting and suggests that rhetorical tricks are needed because solid argumentation is lacking.

    This smacks to me of someone who is trying to get the facts to fit her views, rather than the other way round.

    1. I’d just like to know what makes Gail Dines imagine that she’s entitled to any kind of say about what goes on in Britain, given that she left the country in 1980 and has been resident in the USA since 1986.

    1. Probably. I just felt it was time for a rebrand 🙂

      I think both terms are in occasional use – I think SL sounds a bit more 21st century.

  2. Though I agree totally with the part about socially conservative feminism, I take exception to the part about “Fascist Secularism”. I don’t speak for Condell just myself on this matter, but as a social progressive, I think that most religions are evil. You yourself correctly mock US Right wing christians, well, they’re pretty bad, and a progressive government should seek to erode to elimination all irrational faith through education and the creation of a secular rational culture, but if we’re gonna defend and expand upom the achievements the enlightenment, why not start with the (metaphorically) darkest religion of all? My objections really are non-religious, as a brown lad of punjabi descent myself, to me a white convert to Islam is more alien than an Atheist Pakistani. I don’t advocate repression of religion, however I do advocate making it totally subordinate to the secular liberal democratic constitutional system. We cannot accept the pushing of vile conservative rhetoric from people like Choudary to corrupt our truly superior system. Well organised minorities should not be allowed to force their kids into marriage, they should not be able to get a lingerie bilboard near any place of worship taken down, and they cannot through violence prevent South fucking Park from drawing a picture of Mohammed.
    It’s all the more confusing that you defend faith based moron-icity, while acknowledging that the culturally reactionary wing of the Republicans causes sexually conservative feminism in the US. Again, an attack on religion is not an attack on minorities- after Islam is vapourised, we should start on Christianity, then Judaism. Non secular- Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and Pagansim can wait a good while, but they too, in time, must go
    By the way, here’s a video of Pat Condell fucking off Christianity as well.

    1. Sorry, but if you think you can suppress religion, look at the former Soviet Union and Poland. And Afghanistan – the USSR created the Taliban by trying to ban Islam. The only way religion will decline is through free speech and education. And Islam is no better or worse than any other religion I’m off for a drink now with a Muslim mate. He’s a believer but likes a beer. Welcome to the real world. And Pat Condell may be an atheist (as am I) but he’s also a cunt. I’ll stick to my Muslim mate thanks.

      1. “a progressive government should seek to erode to elimination all irrational faith through education and the creation of a secular rational culture”
        “I don’t advocate repression of religion, however I do advocate making it totally subordinate to the secular liberal democratic constitutional system”

        1. In that case I agree. Religion will decline in the long term, but not until people are fed, educated and no longer live in fear.

          1. Dear Moronwatch, I totally agree with your blog – I can’t remember where I read it (here maybe??), but just because something offends you, it doesn’t mean you are right to seek to abolish it. Minority reactionary groups, be they anti-sex or pro-religion (or even anti some religions…) should not have the influence they do, simply because most people seem unable or unwilling to tell them to go home and stop complaining.
            However, you should fully read the comments your readers leave before posting such a sarky reply. CBGS deserves at least a little apology – his comment was spot on in my view.

  3. One more comment- I think there many actually be some feminists who are deep down genuienely non-conservative but who agree for “rational” reasons that sexyness is bad. And what would be interesting to point out to them is how the nations with the most libertarian attitude to porn and prostitution are also the best for women to live in. (IE, Scandinavia, Canada, Germany, Chile, Switzerland, the UK, the US outside the Dixie South-eastern states)

    1. Not so much Scandinavia these days – Iceland is planning to block porn and Sweden has effectively banned prostitution.

      1. The radfems have gradually crept into positions of influence in both of those countries – just as they’re attempting to do in the USA and most of Europe right now.

  4. There’s a middle ground missing in this debate. As a woman I’m not pro sex work in the way sex work seems to be happening today. We spent a millennia valued only for our vaginas. Today with so many options falling back to making your living off your vagina feels like a return to women only being valued for sex and/or their genitalia. May as well get married stop work and trade your vagina for a living like women had to for hundreds of years.

    Harshly worded perhaps but how it is. If sex work is to be a useful and valued profession it needs qualifications and to not be something those at their lowest ebb fall into when they see no other options. I’m in favour of legal prostitution that provides a valuable service, not one that exploits the vulnerable and poor for the easy glorification of some dudes cock.

    1. I more or less agree. You can’t stop people selling sex but you can put a lot of protections in place – most of all, ensuring that sex workers have full working rights like any other group, can turn to the police when they need to. Also tackling drug addiction as an illness rather than a crime would help address the “low end” of the trade. I’d rather than state paid for addiction counselling and provided heroin on prescription than women sell sex to buy drugs.

      1. “You can’t stop people selling sex but you can put a lot of protections in place”

        And the best people to advise what forms those protections should take are the sex workers themselves. Too many initiatives to ‘protect’ sex workers have simply try to rob them of agency over their own bodies and livelihoods.

  5. Not sure if this is the right place (or where it is: even if I were on Twitter, this doesn’t fit into 140 characters), but I think the issues on Leveson and press restrictions are far more nuanced than you make out, MW, and I’m trying to start a debate here. In summary, my worry is that parts of the press are powerful bullies, who take on those who can’t fight back, and those people need a more level playing field.

    I’m not sure that a press where over 50% of sales are under the control of very few people (Murdoch, Desmond and Rothermere, all of whom appear to be deeply unpleasant individuals) can actually be described as “free”.

    I think we all agree that some of the behaviour of the newspapers (often towards people who had suffered intense personal grief, eg the Dowlers, McCanns) was utterly unacceptable, and probably illegal. As you’ve said, this should be dealt with through existing law. Unfortunately, the police seem to take the view there is one law for the rich, and another for the poor. See the article below, which seems relevant.


    If you believe the stated reason for restricting access, papers which paid policemen for stories (including the Sun and NotW) were perverting the course of justice (perverting being the appropriate term, in more ways than one when referring to child abuse!). Again, this is illegal under current law.

    I see nothing wrong with the concept that an apology for a wrong story (say, Chris Jeffries’ “trial by media”) should be given the same prominence as the original story. Or with the idea that the press should actually try and be truthful in their stories, and should be compelled to be so (but not by politicians directly). I certainly don’t think the press should be allowed to refuse to accept the parliamentary deal: I never see burglars being consulted on new burglary laws and asked for their consent!

    I do realise that some “celebrities” feed stories to the press, and there might be room for a “biter bit” interpretation of the rules.

    Like you, I am extremely suspicious of politicians trying to regulate the press in any way (a useful test might be “would the expenses scandal have been exposed under this regime?”), and the press must have a clear and absolute public interest defence. The problem is trying to define what this is. It isn’t the same as “of interest to the public”. Perhaps this example helps. Suppose (say) the Sun uncovers someone in a partnership having a homosexual affair. If that person is (say) a pop star, exposing the affair is not in the public interest (even if it is of interest to the public). If the person is a politician who has made a name for him- or herself espousing “family values”, it is in the public interest.

    No doubt, you (and others) will want to comment on these issues.

    1. I agree with your points. Problem is, I’ve tangled with media regulators and I know they become a power unto themselves, even if the original intention was good. This debate needs to happen; I worry that politicians who empower censors for the best of reasons are ultimately creating a monster.

      1. I accept your point, and i don’t think anyone is advocating censorship on the basis of Leveson (others are for different reasons). I am very conscious here of the emasculating of the BBC by the last Labour Government, abetted by Hutton.

        The key issue to me is the power of certain multinational media groups to harass people and distort facts (or simply lie) with impunity, which I think cannot be right.

        Somehow a balance has to be found, which is far from simple. I have every confidence in the ability of politicians and interest groups to get it spectacularly wrong.

        1. “I don’t think anyone is advocating censorship on the basis of Leveson (others are for different reasons).”

          Well, MPs of all three major parties have approved measures to apply regulatory controls to websites – something NOT covered by the Leveson enquiry. Censorship of the web, anyone?

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