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 ferment 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.

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.

Tuppy Owens: I Was Censored By Feminists

Tuppy Owens

Tuppy Owens

Since the 1960s, Tuppy Owens has been a sexual libertarian: she has campaigned tirelessly for sexual freedom and set up groups that fight for sexual rights for disabled people. As a woman fighting for the sexual rights of women (as well as men) to enjoy sexual pleasure without guilt, she might once have been embraced by the feminist movement; yet since the late 1970s, she has been repeatedly attacked by anti-sex feminists. Here, she describes some of her experiences.

 

My name is Tuppy Owens and I am a woman. I started the Outsiders Club in 1979 for disabled men and women to gain confidence and find partners. Feminists immediately started attacking me, accusing me of encouraging disabled men to be “as disgusting as other men”. I can remember them sitting in the front row at conferences I spoke at, hurling abuse. I chose to ignore them.

For 25 years of my life, I published the Sex Maniac’s Diary, a jovial pocket book featuring sex positions of the day, kinks of the week, and international listings for sexy hotels, swing clubs, fetish clubs and places to enjoy commercial sex. Many people bought it as a joke Christmas present but in reality the information was very seriously researched and presented.

There were obviously more commercial establishments for men than for women (as there still are), but feminists therefore decided the little diary was “sexist”, and slowly printers refused to print it and criticism abounded – its charm and innocence were lost. I was very upset, but there was nothing I could do, anti-sex feminism was “in”.

Rather reluctantly, I was persuaded by its organisers to join Feminists Against Censorship. I didn’t really go along with their way of working and had nothing in common with the members. One of them asked me, while scrounging a lift in my car, “do you still fuck men?” “Yes”, I replied, why not?”. “Well, men just do what they want.” I thought about this and told her, “Yes, men do what they want and women do what we want. That’s what makes sex so great.” “Oh” she said, and sat silently.

Feminists Against Censorship decided to produce a book. I suggested they call it “Tales from the Clitoris” but it ended up with the rather vulgar title, “Tales from the Clit”. I was to be given a chapter, to write about Outsiders and my work with disabled people.

I wrote it from the heart. Midway through, I expressed my concern with what was happening a great deal at the time (late 80′s, early 90′s) when women felt their genitals were rather like a trophy which would be shared only in very special circumstances. I watched women swagger around as if they held this precious object between their legs, not to be shared. “Where had the generosity gone? How sad it was for disabled men who would never live up to the required standards, and never get to taste their delicious pussies and share their pleasures.”

Or something like that. Well, this paragraph was censored out, and I declared “I’ve been censored by Feminists Against Censorship!”.

Sadly, things have got much worse now. Feminists have joined forces with religious groups to get rid of all the wonderful striptease joints in London and elsewhere. Why can’t they listen to the women who are strippers before campaigning to close their places of work? Why are they allowed to get away with this? Probably because the feminists have kicked the balls out of the politicians, council members and journalists who might, in the past, have stopped them behaving so outrageously.

Feminism makes me not wish to identify as a woman, or a human being for that matter. I think I’ll opt for just being a mammal.

Why Maggie Won’t Have a Respectful Send-Off

Perhaps the United States once really was “the land of the free” – but I see no historical evidence that it deserves this label (unless it refers simply to the freedom of white people to grab land, in the early, pioneer days). An illustration of the power of US corporate propaganda is the way in which Ronald Reagan, a global terrorist and domestic criminal, who redistributed large chunks of the US economy to the super-rich, is today seen by many Americans as a hero; or at least, a nice old man. He even has a provincial airport named after him. This Stalinist-style rewrite of history is an American speciality. The truth is dead – long live the propaganda.

Reagan’s loyal sidekick, Margaret Thatcher, died last week, and the right immediately tried to begin another rewrite of history; the media has pushed a largely establishment view, and the old lady has been given a state-funded funeral, with military escort, to take place this Wednesday. The British establishment is trying to airbrush one unfortunate fact out of history: Thatcher is widely loathed by much of the British public – probably by more people than ever supported her. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, right-wing media and wider establishment, the British people have less of a tendency towards amnesia than our American cousins, and, it appears, less of a tendency to lie down and let the state roll over us.

Thatcher, I commented on Twitter, was the most hated Briton of the 20th Century. I only received one dissenting reply, which suggested Ian Huntley (the murderer of two young girls) as an alternative. Perhaps he was right – but reaching for a child killer underlines my point rather than destroying it.

The point of most of the protests, blogging and anger is deadly serious: to prevent Thatcher from getting the Reagan treatment. It’s important that the long series of tragedies that marked the Thatcher era is kept in the public memory. Even the combined might of the right-wing media has failed to hide that Thatcher is hated by millions of people.

Some clever person thought up a way to reveal the extent of Thatcher-hate: by suggesting that people buy the Wizard of Oz song, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. The single rocketed up the iTunes chart to number one (before mysteriously settling back to second place in the hour before the count closed on Saturday night); the right, still failing to comprehend the truly mass nature of the anti-Thatcher feeling, tried to replace it with a pro-Thatcher song, “I Love Margaret Thatcher” (which was actually satirical – there are no known pro-Thatcher songs). This effort was promoted by the right-wing media – and still flopped dismally, reaching a pathetic 35th position. Despite what the media was telling us, there was no groundswell of pro-Thatcher feeling to rival the anti-Thatcher feeling.

The BBC and Capital Radio both decided to censor the charts. You see, it’s fine for the mass media to tell people what tunes to buy, but when the public choose the top single for themselves, to make a statement? That’s dangerous sedition. We now have an established precedent: when a fact (in this case, the extent of hatred for Margaret Thatcher) is inconvenient to the British establishment, the media can and will impose censorship.

Anti-Thatcher banners were displayed at football matches. Plans for a minute’s silence at stadiums were shelved, because football fans would have refused to stay silent. Every attempt to paint a picture of a nation in mourning failed.

The right resorted to snivelling: “An old lady has died… Think of her family.” But then why is such a hated woman awarded a state-funded funeral that is bound to generate anger and protest? Why is there a military presence, and why are the chimes of Big Ben to be silenced? Because then future generations can be taught that she was a national heroine; that her vindictive and deliberate destruction of Britain’s social fabric was actually done in the national interest. The fact of the funeral itself can be used to write history – how different is this from the state-sanctioned worship of North Korean leaders? These tyrants can prove how “loved” they are by showing videos of cheering, flag-waving crowds. Tomorrow’s event is made-for-TV. The pictures will show the burial of a loved woman, not a hated one. Millions can express their hatred for Thatcher on the streets, online, at football matches, by buying singles; but the final story that the establishment wants to tell is a different one altogether.

This is why the protests this week have been important. This is a battle for memes: a struggle to control which version of history goes into the history books. Because for all the praise over Thatcher’s legacy, the British people have not forgotten:

  • Thatcher’s “economic miracle” never happened: British GDP has grown in line with Germany and France - and this happened at the time of a North Sea oil boom in the UK.
  • Thatcher therefore didn’t create wealth with her policies – she merely redistributed it, from poor to rich, as shown by the Gini coefficient.
  • And the long-term economic legacy? According to Thatcher fans, we now have a country of opportunity for hard workers. Yet Thatcher actually made it harder to succeed – social mobility fell, and is among the worst in Europe, with only Portugal lagging behind us. This fact, more than any other, destroys the central myth of Thatcherism.
  • Thatcher’s one true economic achievement was to turn London into a global financial centre; but this happened at the cost of losing Britain’s position as a manufacturer, leaving Germany to soar ahead; and the 2008 crash showed that the City boom was far less valuable to the nation than had been previously assumed. It had been built on sand.
  • Some “libertarians” have declared Thatcher a fighter for individual liberty – these people clearly don’t remember the most authoritarian regime of the post-war era, probably even beating New Labour’s control-freakery after 9/11. The police were given a blank cheque by the Thatcherites: as a result, police corruption and violence soared. Deaths in custody were ignored. When young people turned away from politics and embraced rave culture, the police were even there to stop them dancing in fields. Thatcherism did not approve of dancing. “Free” people must consume, not dance.
  • Despite the rise in brutal policing (or more likely, because of it) violent crime rose throughout the 1980s, peaking in the mid-90s before starting to fall again (see “Trends in Crime” graph in this BBC article).
  • Thatcherites spread the myth that privilege is now about hard work, not birthright; yet when Thatcher’s moron son Mark attempted to engineer a coup in Equatorial Guinea and was arrested, strings were pulled on his behalf, and he was fined and released.

So Thatcher’s death is being used by conservatives to reinvent her life. Don’t these people have any respect for a frail old lady who has died, or for her family? Despite a torrent of media lies and censorship; despite the police acting to prevent peaceful protest; despite the tabloid wailing about “leftie extremists”, the British people have acted to stop history from being rewritten. The British love of free speech wasn’t given to us from above; it’s deep in our culture, and it’s the people who claim to defend it who most want to take it away.

Pre-emptive Arrests In UK

With the upcoming Thatcher burial (or firing her out of a cannon, or whatever they’ll do with her), some people have been taken by surprise by suggestions that activists may be pre-emptively arrested to prevent them from disrupting the funeral.

If you’re one of those surprised people, you haven’t been paying attention. The police have increasingly arrested people – including those with no history of violence – in the run-up to major events.

This is just one more example of thought crime, which has been increasingly prevalent since 9/11. But, you may say, in a democracy, how can political speech be criminalised? It can’t – democracy is meaningless without the right to protest.

Arrests were made in the run-up to the Royal Wedding in 2011, and 97 people were arrested in the run-up to Notting Hill Carnival that year.

Here’s a video of the political arrest of Charlie Veitch, in 2011, in the run up to the Royal Wedding. He was held for 24 hours to prevent him from making any kind of protest, however peaceful or humour-based. This is what a police state looks like in Britain: polite police officers enforcing undemocratic edicts from above to prevent speech that upsets “the establishment” – whatever and whoever that may be.

Moron STUC Closes Door to Sex Workers

I received this release today from a sex worker advocate group: sorry, haven’t had time to work it into a post so I’ve copied and pasted. It looks like religious morality trumps worker rights in Scotland’s trade union movement – the once proud Scottish labour movement won’t give backing to workers who have sex for a living.

As I’ve written in a number of previous posts: the Labour movement has collapsed into social conservatism. A new progressive movement is needed.

PRESS RELEASE

Glasgow, 2nd April, 2013.

STUC Closes Its Door On Sex Workers.

With one week’s notice, STUC have pulled out of their agreement to host a formal discussion bringing together experts on sex work from all over the world.

Despite initial agreement that Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) could host one of its public events at STUC, the Trade Union Congress has made clear their opposition to sex workers’ self-organising.

The event was organised as part of a broader festival that aims to bring awareness on issues affecting sex workers and give voice to those most affected by these issues. The volunteer collective behind the festival is made of sex workers and former sex workers from all sectors of the industry.

The cancellation of the venue has directly impacted the organisation of the festival that is taking place over 5 days in several venues in Glasgow, including the Centre for Contemporary Art and Kinning Park Community Center. Flyers were printed and distributed with the address of STUC. Molly, a current indoor sex worker says: “It’s a slap in the face to have our small marginalised community collective treated this way by such a well-established and powerful organisation. The irony is that many of us are trade union members ourselves!”

Amy, a former street-based sex worker and member of SWOU says: “I am shocked and angry that STUC could pull out with such short notice. Working on the street, I am used to be harassed and pushed out. Being treated the same way by the trade union and women’s groups makes me sick to my stomach.”

Luca, male sex worker and co-founder of SWOU says: “As society is confronted with massive changes due to economic crisis, austerity measures and cuts in public services, trade unions need to support – not shut down – efforts from communities to organise for their rights. We thank Kinning Park Community Complex for offering us an alternative space to hold this event and we invite all those interested in the rights, health and safety of sex workers to attend and learn. This invitation extends to other workers, trade unionists and community members, as well as STUC, as we will continue to fight for our rights as workers.”

  • End -

If you would like to speak with the organisers or for us to arrange other interviews

Please phone us on 01 414 332 502 or email contact.swou@gmail.com and glasgow.swou@gmail.com

High resolution images at http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

More info:

Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) website http://www.swou.org

SWOU Glasgow page and full programme: www.glasgowswou.wordpress.org

Full programme: http://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/programme/

Quotes from Organisers and Participants: http://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/quotes-from-organisers-and-participants/

SWOU Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/sexworkeropenuniversity

Main SWOU 2013 Facebook event –http://www.facebook.com/events/

347770968675060/

SWOU Twitter – https://twitter.com/SexWorkerOU; Hashtag #sexworkerOU

SWOU Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

Email – contact.swou@gmail.com

- Ends –

Diane Abbott, Fake Socialist

Back in the 80s, I spent some time as a Labour Party member. In much of the country, Labour was still the defender of organised labour (the clue’s in the name), but in London, a variety of fringe groups and interests from outside the traditional labour movement had made Labour their home.

One of the favourite tricks of the middle-class London left was “positive discrimination” – what Americans call “affirmative action”. They felt that Labour was lacking non-white faces, so decided to fast-track some into the ranks. This was a strange thing to do: black and Asian workers were rapidly climbing trade union power structures on their own merit. Some very talented socialists from India and the West Indies had migrated to the UK and had joined the Labour Party. These black activists didn’t need a hand up: Bernie Grant, a fiery Jamaican activist won a parliamentary seat in Tottenham; Bill Morris, another Jamaican, was ascending the trade union ranks on his own merit and would soon lead the UK’s biggest union, before taking the most powerful union job of all, as leader of the TUC. But the middle-class left were impatient, and perhaps were uncomfortable with black class fighters like Grant and Morris.

The result of the “positive discrimination” era was not good, either for Labour or the black and Asian communities. The people who gained careers in London Labour had no base in the communities, and no respect from them. They were not picked based on talent, but on the colour of their skin. Rather than bring the black communities into Labour, it helped alienate them. A number of embarrassingly untalented individuals, selected by Labour, were now claiming to speak for black Londoners, and black Londoners were not impressed.

One of the fruits of this process seems to have been Diane Abbott, a Hackney MP. Abbott has always made left-wing noises, and for many years I thought she was a genuine socialist. Then, when it came time to send her son to secondary school, she exposed her lack of political belief or solidarity with the people of her poor, Hackney constituency, and sent him to private school. Abbott, a Cambridge graduate, had exposed a simple fact that local Labourites should have noticed years before: she had nothing in common with the poor communities of Hackney other than sharing her skin tone with some of them.

Her choice of school surprised me, and many others who had considered ourselves Abbott supporters; we hadn’t understood that her socialism was skin-deep. It was only when she began to appear on the late-night BBC1 programme This Week that things began to click into place.

Abbott was a regular on this political discussion programme, alongside Michael Portillo, who had been a right-wing minister in the Conservative Thatcher and Major governments. I  began to tune in to the programme each Thursday, eager to see Abbott espousing left-wing values, and attacking Portillo’s right-wing ones. It didn’t work out like that for two reasons: first, Portillo was revealed to be an intelligent, thoughtful man, who had drifted to the centre ground in his years since leaving power. And second, Abbott seemed incapable of explaining her own beliefs. Time after excruciating time, Portillo would gently help her outline a concept before explaining why she was wrong. After watching the programme for some time, my respect for Abbott had collapsed, while I had developed some respect for Portillo (a man I had despised for his record in government).

Bizarrely, when Gordon Brown stepped down as leader, Abbott stepped up as the “candidate of the left” (see Charlotte Gore’s post on Labour tokenism in selecting Abbott); if we needed a sign that the Labour left was defunct, this was it. Abbott was soundly defeated (perhaps Michael Portillo wasn’t available to help write her speeches). Even more bizarrely, Ed Miliband appointed Abbott to a front-bench position after he won the leadership election. Abbott’s job seems to be to make left-wing noises and placate whatever remains of a genuine left in the Labour Party. And admittedly, she does tweet good links (no doubt, thus persuading those who don’t pay much attention that she is some kind of progressive).

If any more evidence were needed of Abbott’s ideological emptiness, it came last week. The coalition pushed through an attack on benefits for some of the poorest people in Britain. The Labour hierarchy instructed their MPs to abstain; but there was a rare rebellion! Over 40 Labour MPs stood up for their principles (and the lives of millions of people who are struggling to survive).

And as for Abbott, whose constituency is one of the poorest in the country? She abstained, of course. Diane is clearly enjoying her stint in front-bench politics, and voting against the Labour machine would have meant standing down from a nice job which she no doubt realises she has no chance of getting a second time.

As Ken Loach and others wrote in yesterday’s Guardian, The Labour party has failed us. We need a new party of the left. They’re a decade or two late in noticing, but hey – better late than never. Given that there are still 40 Labour MPs with principles, perhaps now is the time to get moving – before the entire Labour benches are filled with empty, principle-free career politicians.