Dear Co-op …

A letter from Edie Lamort, feminist and sexual freedom activist, to the Co-operative Group about their latest censorship decision.

Just over five years ago I bought a flat in London SE1. One of my local shops happened to be the Co-op and on my first visit I picked up a Co-op membership form. Loyalty cards can come in handy after all, you get discounts and bonus points. This week the Co-op announced that they had given in to pressure from extremist groups and decided that Lads Mags must come in modesty bags. So as a Co-op member I decided to write a letter to Chief Executive, Steve Murrells. Here it is:

Steve Murrells
Co-operative Group Limited
PO Box 53
New Century House
Manchester
M60 4ES

31st July 2013

Dear Steve Murrells

As the Co-op is one of my local stores I decided to become a member and to use it when I can. I prefer use the independent shops and the Co-op rather than give yet more money to the ubiquitous Tesco. However with this weeks news that the Co-op will be demanding that Lad’s Mags to be sold in modesty bags I will no longer be shopping my local Co-op. The reasons for this are as follows.

As a woman I find the current trend towards more puritan values very disturbing. Lobby groups such as UK Feminista and Object represent the more extreme and fanatical end of this trend and I am very disappointed that the Co-op has buckled under pressure from them. With the proposed censoring of the Internet last week and the general moral panic at the moment about ‘sexualisation’ this is another retrograde step. It is almost like we are experiencing a sexual counter-revolution.

I am worried about this overall message that demonises the female body and buys into centuries old patriarchal tradition that female flesh is sinful and corrupting. It is this mentality that spurred the Witch Trials of the 16th Century and in more recent times has cast a veil of silence over sexual abuse. It leads to an environment where people are made to feel shame about a perfectly natural urge leading to anger and frustration rather than self-awareness and understanding.

The message the Co-operative is sending out is that it agrees with the backward idea that female sexuality and the female body is essentially a corrupting and bad thing and therefore must be hidden. That the female body is dirty, wrong, and bad. It is also extremely hypocritical as celebrity magazines such as OK and Heat are far more salacious and negative about bodies. I find it bizarre that you are ok with these gossip mags that foment insecurity around cellulite, weight etc but are not with ones showing confident and liberated women. Will you also require them to be covered up? What about videos games that regularly feature violence?

We have come along way since the 60s, and the emancipation of all of us to wear what we like (a woman will not longer be branded ‘tart’ for wearing a short skirt) and to explore our sexual selves, which has been a very important social force. I can guarantee you that if this trend towards puritanism continues we will see a rise in sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. This is because the message you and others are sending is that sex and especially of the female kind is inherently wrong. This will make zealots more confident about chastising the ‘temptress’ or slut-shaming women who dare to be emancipated. The train of thought that goes ‘oh she’s a slut look at her she deserved it’ will be encouraged by actions such as modesty bags.

It also seems like a cheap publicity stunt, similar to David Cameron’s unworkable Internet porn ban. I am aware that the Co-operative Group is not the best financial shape and that a sensational press release will raise brand awareness for far less money than a broadcast advertising campaign.

I would urge you to reconsider your actions; meanwhile please find enclosed my membership card, as I no longer wish to be associated with your company.

Regards

A member

Please feel free to add your voice at steve.murrells@co-operative.coop or write a letter to the Manchester head office address above.

Audio: Feminist Porn Awards

Moron-Free Radio is back!

The feminist movement – or at least the part the media pays most attention to – seems to be increasingly puritanical, anti-sex and pro-censorship. And yet, those attitudes aren’t representatives of feminism. For the past few years, Carlyle Jansen has run the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. I spoke to her to find out what feminist porn is about.

Sex Work & Feminism, This-ism, That-ism, Ism! Ism! Ism!

Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism
All we are saying is give peace a chance

In the 1980s, lefties like me dismissed John Lennon’s lyrics as utopian hippy bullshit. Those people who identified as Socialists, Marxists, Maoists, Trotskyists, Communists, Feminists, Fabianites, Anarchists etc. were dismissive of those mindless ideology-free fools. If you couldn’t put an -ism to your name, what kind of spineless person were you?

It became apparent as I grew older that -isms are not so much about believing strongly in something as wanting to belong to a tribe. And who doesn’t want to belong? I used to think that people like Marx and Trotsky had created brilliant new ways of looking at the world. And I still do. But I suspect that Marx and Trotsky would be deeply embarrassed at most of the Marxists and Trotskyists in the world. Great men are great for the very reason that they think for themselves. The reason so many people like -isms is because they would rather let somebody else think for them.

These labels of tribal identity have become so ossified that they have lost their meanings. I’ve met conservatives who call themselves Marxists, and progressives who think they’re conservatives. A label comes with a handy set of “beliefs”, which people can adopt without going through the tiresome process of actually thinking.

As I’ve blogged before, it’s not that I’m no longer left-wing – it’s more that the left has become dogmatic, conservative and stupid in its thinking – the very opposite of what it used to be. All groups become stale and stuck in conservative ways of thinking. The left’s intellectual heyday was in the 19th century – no wonder it is tired and conservative these days.

Feminism is another label that has lost all sense of its roots. First wave feminism fought for the vote and women’s property rights in the 19th century. Second wave feminism fought for gender equality, the recognition of rape as a serious crime (including in marriage) and sexual liberation for women. Having moved on from these goals, 1980s feminism split into various opposing fragments.

Like all other -isms, most people call themselves feminists as a handy tribal label. Most feminists today don’t know much about feminist history, any more than Marxists have read Marx. I’ve heard people say things like “I’m a feminist, so I am opposed to porn”. This is dumb at two levels – first, that feminists don’t automatically oppose porn (though some do), and second because it isn’t a reasoning process, but a mere statement of identity. People who make such statements have clearly not thought through the issues for themselves, but simply adopted somebody else’s ideas as their own.

I’ve written quite a lot about conservative feminism vs. sex-positive feminism. Some people who haven’t paid enough attention have accused me of attacking feminism; and yet, I’m pointing out that feminism has been attacked from within. Social conservatives have adopted the feminist label in order to make their ideas seem progressive, and in doing so, have undermined feminism itself.

I’m both amused and pleased that my writing has not only persuaded some progressives that they are no longer feminists, but that I’ve also persuaded at least one male conservative that he is in fact a feminist.

Today marks a day of protest to end violence against sex workers. Although sex workers are of both genders, most of the stigma associated with sex work, and most of the violence, is targeted at women. If there is a cause for feminists to embrace today, this is it. Feminist sex workers are on the front line in this battle, fighting for recognition and against criminalisation. And yet, the most vociferous opponents to recognising sex worker rights include both the religious right and “radical feminists”. These two groups come from very different roots and use very different language, but all too often share platforms to fight for the same goals: censoring sexual expression, stigmatising sexuality, criminalising prostitution, closing down striptease and burlesque venues.

Sex workers have little doubt that criminalisation and stigmatisation increase violence against them. Yet some feminist groups refuse to listen to the workers, claim that no woman in her right mind would choose sex work, and call for the trade to be pushed underground. Feminists succeeded in this goal in Sweden, which introduced the so-called Nordic Model to criminalise the sex trade and push it underground. The Nordic Model is being held responsible by sex workers for the murder of a sex worker and activist known as Petite Jasmine, an event which triggered today’s protests.

I personally doubt that anti-sex work feminist groups genuinely have women’s interests at heart; they have been caught twisting the facts too often to be credible as feminists (as Brooke Magnanti exposed in her book, The Sex Myth). But if they want to call themselves feminists, that is, of course, their right.

As for me, I’m in favour of decriminalising sex work, and agree with sex worker advocates that the Nordic Model is bigoted and dangerous. Does that make me a feminist? Ism ism ism… I’m with John Lennon on this one.

Stigma and the Consequences of Being the Wrong Kind of Woman

In the wake of the murder of a sex worker activist in Sweden, stripper Edie Lamort writes about the stigma faced by women who choose sex work.

Last week a Swedish sex worker named Petite Jasmine was allegedly murdered by her violent ex-husband. A victim of an unbalanced man but also of the draconian Swedish sex laws, the so-called Nordic Model, that so many of our politicians here seem to idolise. Mainstream media did not report this angle, as they too seem to be in favour of the Nordic Model. However last weeks events show the consequences of such laws that feed the terrible stigma around anyone involved in sex work. Despite being an articulate and obviously intelligent campaigner her job as a sex worker meant the courts saw her as an unfit mother so placed her children with their violent father. The man who then went on to kill her by stabbing her 27 times. She reported his violence to the police but was not believed due to her job. Here are some links:

http://titsandsass.com/the-bloody-state-gave-him-the-power-a-swedish-sex-workers-murder/

http://researchprojectkorea.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/rest-in-peace-jasmine/

https://jasmineanddora.wordpress.com

http://scarletalliance.org.au/issues/swedish_model/Swedish_briefing/

There are rallies this Friday in various cities throughout the world to show support for Jasmine and a murdered transgender sex worker called Dora, and to protest against criminalisation. The organisers of the event have said,

“We are calling all our friends and families to protest the Swedish model that took away the children of Jasmine and gave the custody to her violent ex-husband who finally murdered her. Social workers and the Swedish state refused to listen to Jasmine. Why listening to a sex worker who doesn’t know what is good for her? That criminal system cost Jasmine her life.”

https://www.facebook.com/events/552582234799603/?notif_t=plan_user_invited

This reminded me of a changing room conversation one day in an East End strip pub. A dancer had told me once that her goal was in order to ensure she could get the best IVF treatment. She’d been told several years previously by her doctor that she would struggle to conceive naturally so her savings plan had focused around ensuring she had a family. Her husband worked as a builder and she as a stripper. A stereotypical working class couple making good, working towards creating a nice family home in the suburbs. After many years of trying and buying the best IVF treatment they were unsuccessful and decided to adopt. They began the procedure but were eventually refused because of her job. As an erotic dancer she was viewed as an unfit mother despite them being a perfectly decent couple who’d worked hard for decent home. So a child was denied a good home due to social prejudice and a patronising narrative against ‘the fallen woman’. They had worked for years to achieve their goal but this stigma prevented them opening their home to a child in need.

Another example of the effects of stigma is the story of ‘Luanna’. She was a Brazilian dancer who worked for many years in London and also trained to be a pharmacist. She met and fell in love with a handsome Australian and eventually moved to the other side of the world to be with him. It all began well with her getting that pharmaceutical job, having a child and building a new life. Then the marriage broke down and a messy divorce ensued. Her husband then turned and showed his true colours and hypocrisy by using her former job against her as a way of gain full custody of their son. She was devastated.

Whilst living in London he had not once complained about her job as a dancer and was very happy to go to the fancy parties, the expensive restaurants, enjoy the 5 star holidays and get a nice new motor cycle. In fact he would tell her she was beautiful and it was a great job, he had no problems with her dancing. So she carried on under a false sense of security as he merrily spent her money. But hey, they were building a life together, or so she thought, there would be a point when he had to take care of her so it would all balance out surely?

Yet when they went to court, whether he believed in the authenticity of the argument or not, he knew he could throw the stigma of being an erotic dancer at her. This was to discredit her and humiliate her out of anger and spite but he was fully aware that he could use the uninformed prejudices in society to win his argument. He knew what buttons to push despite the fact that he had lived off of her earnings, had been quite happy with it at the time, and that she had achieved an education and career out of it. The court ruled in his favour.

Eventually after a long fight she managed to start seeing her son again at weekends and is slowly rebuilding their relationship. Yet in this act of vengeance, his and society’s punishment of the immoral woman, did he think of the consequences for the child? The fact that his son was denied a relationship with his own mother and that he caused his son distress? Or maybe that he may have been damaging his son’s future ability to relate to women due to the fact that his own mother had been denounced? Would the child grow up hating women because of this? The only thing that was considered was that at some point she had been the ‘wrong type of woman’.

All these attitudes and laws have their roots in centuries old church morality, which simply doesn’t work in the modern world. Yet these prejudices can be thrown at women at any time. Find yourself outside of the norm and wait for the onslaught. There has been a growing cacophony, a white noise of ignorance, over the past few years from journalists and lobbying groups who label themselves feminists to increase this stigma and further alienate anyone who works in the erotic industries. What they fail to realise is that this stigma is dangerous and damaging to all women. It narrows the confines of what a ‘good’ woman is and will have consequences on all women as it encourages slut-shaming. God help you if you fall outside the narrowing perimeters of what is ‘good’.

Those who work in the erotic industries are the outer limits, the final rings around planet ‘what is acceptable’. We are taking the flack and therefore those who exist further in can do as they please. As long as we remain the definition of slut the rest of you are relatively safe. However if we are driven underground and the world becomes a more judgemental and puritanical place then ‘normal’ women will also become targets. Holly Willoughby showing too much cleavage on The Voice to the closing of Burlesque venues. This is why I find Radical Feminism so bizarrely anti-women. They would like to close the walls around women and narrow the definition of what is acceptable for a woman to be. Not allowing space for individuality or creativity. Woman have spent decades fighting to have a wider range of choices yet one group feels it has the right to impose it’s way of life upon another. Stigma kills.

The Moronic Ban on Khat

It will come as little surprise to British readers that the UK government is to introduce yet another pointless, damaging and downright stupid ban on another safe drug. We’ve been here many times before, and the procedure is standard.

The target this time is khat, a plant with mild stimulant properties, popular among East African communities – which, in British cities, means the ban will primarily affect Somalis. It should go without saying that the government, as ever, ignored advice from its own drugs experts, who announced in January that there was insufficient evidence of harm to society or to the users’ health.

The reason given for the ban by Home Secretary Teresa May was even more astoundingly stupid than the standard “drugs are bad” mantras usually given. She said that it wasn’t clear whether khat was being re-exported from the UK to other countries where the drug is banned. Or in other words, because states like France have already banned the substance for no apparent reason, Britain will too.

Khat is consumed in Somali cafes in London, just as another habit-forming stimulant, coffee, is drunk in Starbucks and Costa Coffee chains; except that, unlike caffeine (which is responsible for some sleep problems among its users), khat’s active ingredient quickly leaves the body after consumption, leaving no ill effects.

The main effects of the ban will be that African farmers will lose a valuable export market, and British-based East Africans will lose their stimulant of choice. A black market will of course develop, prices will rise, and some khat users will switch to other, possibly more harmful drugs.

Why do these moronic bans happen? With the Metropolitan Police already reported to be out of control, and still riddled with racism, this gives police a new excuse to pick on Somalis, just as they have long exploited cannabis prohibition to pick on West Indians. It gives a thumbs-up to the alcohol and coffee industries, who maintain their “government approved drug of choice” status.

Khat is not just a drug: just as with previously banned safe substances (far safer than tobacco and alcohol, at any rate) – cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms and mephedrone – it represents a subculture. Like all these other drugs bans, the prohibition on khat represents the action of small-minded bullies in authority who seem to enjoy stamping out niche cultures, just as disturbed teenagers enjoy torturing animals. Bullied at school? Why not join the Home Office and get paid to attack people who seem to be enjoying life more than you? Or join the Labservative party, become a Minister, and get your revenge on the cool kids?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the New Zealand government has done something astonishing: it has introduced a sensible way to regulate recreational drugs. The policy is so blindingly obvious that the British government could never have thought of it: the drugs industry will be allowed sell substances so long as they can demonstrate they are safe. This puts the onus (and the cost) onto the drugs suppliers. In turn, users will be given the choice of safer, legal drugs, and consumption of more dangerous substances will diminish.

And while the New Zealand government shows concern for the health of its citizens, at least five British people have died from consuming pills falsely sold as ecstasy. This is the price of moronic drug laws: users cannot buy a clean supply of a safe drug, and end up taking something different instead. It’s time for drugs sanity; but sadly Britain is determined to be a follower, not a leader.

My Abu Dhabi Ramadan

The Muslim fasting period of Ramadan has been coming and going for centuries, but never before have Muslim minorities in the West been under such scrutiny. This year’s Ramadan starts tomorrow. The UK’s Channel 4 TV channel has cleverly launched a set of what it calls “provocative” programming around Ramadan, including tonight’s Documentary, A Very British Ramadan, and a call to prayer to be broadcast each morning at 3am.

It’s strange that programmes about an ancient religious festival should be seen as provocative at all, but there is now a hardcore Muslim-hating minority across the Western World that never wastes an opportunity to throw hatred at Muslims, much as monkeys in the zoo enjoying throwing shit. Thus, the Channel 4 decision to run Ramadan-themed programmes is a great piece of trolling, designed in part to provoke bigots who think Islam has no place in British society. And it seems to be working.

Of course, the average Muslim-hater has little or no contact with Muslims or the Muslim world. They live in a fantasy land where Muslim countries teem with extremists, and are dangerous places to visit. I admit that I too had preconceived ideas about Muslim countries, especially Arab ones.

Being British and Jewish, I was nervous when I won some contract work in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, in the mid 1990s. I had previously been to Turkey, but the UAE was a more intimidating prospect. The airport welcome was friendly though, and I easily got a cab, with a talkative driver, to my downtown hotel. The UAE is a fairly conservative country, although moderate by the standards of its neighbour, Saudi Arabia. I found that as a foreigner, I could order beer in the hotel, and wasted no time in doing so.

I then learned that Ramadan would begin two days into my visit, and wondered what this would mean. I soon discovered that no food or drink, even water, was served during daylight hours. The office I was working in adjusted its hours to make life easier for its employees, beginning at 7am and ending at 2pm, so that people didn’t become too hungry or thirsty during the working day.

At one point, I was in a meeting with an Arab manager, and said I was thirsty. Without thinking, he reached into his desk and produced a bottle of water for me. As I started to drink, he suddenly remembered it was Ramadan, and asked me to drink the water out of sight of the office, in the stairwell. I was discovering that for Arab Muslims, just like for my own Jewish family, religious rules are made to be twisted and broken. People of all origins enjoy their traditions, usually without thinking a great deal about their origins.

The hotel served breakfast early, so that people could eat before sunrise. And people did eat. A lot. Likewise, after sunset, a huge Iftar buffet was laid on to break the fast. Although Ramadan is supposed to be a time of fasting, in fact Muslims tend to eat more during this time than the rest of the year. A huge meal tends to be taken after sunset, and another huge breakfast before the sun rises. As I said, religious rules are made for twisting.

One of the most amusing sights I saw was in the pastry and ice cream shops around the city. In the few minutes before sunset, people would grab a table and peruse the menu. Waiters would stand to attention, waiting. And as the call to prayer began to echo through the city, the waiters rushed out and people shouted their orders. Soon, huge slices of cake and towering ice cream sundaes were being served and devoured.

More entertainment was provided by an ongoing debate over whether nicotine patches were allowed during daylight. Many Emiratis were heavy smokers, and smoking was haraam during daylight, because the smoke was taken orally. The UAE’s top mullahs pondered this deep theological problem as the nervous smokers waited; and then, to general relief, they announced that the daytime use of nicotine patches was halal.

My time in Abu Dhabi blew away preconceptions I had about Arab culture. For sure the country is run by a dictatorship, and is a deeply conservative culture. It isn’t the kind of place I could have considered staying in long-term – my party lifestyle would have been too severely compromised. Yet the people were among the friendliest I had encountered – more so than most European or American strangers I had met in my travels. As for my being of Jewish origin; after a few days I was confident enough to tell locals this fact, and met no hostility at all; the strongest reactions were along the lines of “Ah! If only the Israelis and Palestinians could work together. They are the smartest peoples in the Middle East.”

I welcome the Channel 4 experiment in Ramadan programming. For most, open-minded people, it represents the chance to learn something. And anyone who is upset by the coverage deserves to be upset: morons will be morons.