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.

Gifts For Strippers

An update from our Stripping Correspondent Edie Lamort, who is thinking about “objectification” and the gifts she receives from her fans.

One of the reasons I find the term ‘objectification’ doesn’t fit with my job as a stripper is in the gifts we receive. Sometimes you find yourself being taken by surprise by the things the regular customers say and in what they buy you. A good example of this, is if you learn some new pole tricks, or maybe change a tried and tested routine on the stage. Someone in the audience is bound to point this out.

“Oh you did the spin before going upside down this time.”

“Eh?! You noticed that?!”

“I love that new trick you did on that pole on the far side.”

“Really? Thanks.”

There are a couple of men that come in who I have named ‘The Dance Critics’. They should come in with scorecards because they sit up the front and critique the stage shows. (The front row is known as Gynaecology Row in the stripper argot) I think I might make them big score cards just for fun. Numbers 1 – 10 in bold black ink on white A4 paper.

‘Oh you were a little bit unsure about that new move weren’t you? But your shoulder mount is improving.’’

‘What?!?!’

I usually receive rather odd or thoughtful gifts from punters, some are baffling and some have proved to be great. I sat with a regular customer one day and said ‘why do I get these odd gifts?’ His reply was, ‘because we can see who you are.’ So here are some of the odd gifts I and others have been given over the years.

Very Spiritual Water

I have mainly worked in East End strip pubs so there are a lot of Asian men who come in on their own and some of them will befriend us and become regulars. There was a Pakistani guy, who owned a leather shop in London and had a factory back home, who became our quasi-stylist for a while. He would tell us which of his jackets or coats would suit us and then make them and sell them to us at cost. Pretty soon a lot of sexy strippers were sporting leather jackets of all styles so this could have been a canny sales technique on his part.

I had an Indian customer who I would see fairly regularly. He was always very polite and earnest, would have a chat, a few private dances and then go. He was interesting and told me a lot about the hippy side of his homeland and the various spiritual pilgrimages he would do. He recommended drinking ‘very spiritual water’ from the source of the Ganges. The pure H2O goodness from the Himalayan snowmelt, and the thawing of the Gangotri Glacier, that was supposed to sooth the soul.

After Christmas one year he went back to India for a few months to visit family and soak up that famous spiritual atmosphere so I didn’t see him for a while. When he returned he brought me this famous ‘very spiritual water’. He walked into the dark cavernous pub with a couple of shopping bags looking pendulous and heavy and set them down by me. He then pulled out a bag of ‘very spiritual water’, which was a sealed plastic bag full of water. It was ornately decorated in reds, golds, oranges and yellows and looked very Indian. I was surprised and flattered that he’d made the effort to carry these heavy bags of water half way across the world in order to assist my spiritual well-being. I took the water home and drank it as recommended and no, I didn’t get ill, but maybe my spirit was cleansed. Who knows?

Books

I have more of these than I can possibly fit into my house. My bookshelves are bowing under the weight of book after book piled on top of each other but, like shoes, they are so pretty I can’t bear to part with them. Some of the books I get from customers are just really odd and about things such as corporate management. What puzzling motivation inspired that purchase? I am certainly not someone who easily fits into the corporate world; I am one of those arty hippy types. Other books have been really interesting. Sex and Punishment by Eric Berkowitz was a good read and I do recommend it. Now when I see the book-buying customers I tell them what I’d like to read next. I find it quite amusing that whilst I’m stripping, apparently being objectified, there are men sitting there thinking, ‘nice arse, I wonder what books she likes to read?’

Shoes

Well of course! Shoes are a must but I usually approach this in a practical way. Shoes are a necessity. Stripper shoes get scuffed and easily wrecked on the poles and stage so you are reluctant to spend lots of money on them. A tube of superglue is an essential item in your workbag as is a black marker pen to colour in all the scrapes on those cheap plastic shoes. There is a particular regular who will always oblige me with shoes. I tell him what needs replacing, my size and what colour I’d like and as if by magic they arrive!

Jewellery

‘Well, I was in the jewellery shop and bought my wife a pair of earrings so I thought I’d better buy you a pair too’, said a regular who then handed me a small neat box, wrapped with a silver ribbon. I smiled and thanked him, pulling the bow open and taking out the long amber earrings.

Why did he think he needed to buy me a gift as well as his wife, it’s not like we were ever going to cross paths? Was he overcome with a moment of guilt for the stripper he liked to visit, when buying his wife a gift? I was puzzled by this sense of obligation. It’s not as if I was his mistress but they’re nice earrings, I get complimented on them.

Documentary DVDs

The giving of documentary DVDs is along the same line as books. Usually after you’ve been talking to a regular customer about a particular topic. Some guys have no one else to talk to like that and do appreciate conversation. Some are also very intelligent, just unlucky in love and lacking in confidence. So you usually have a few customers that are a nice relief because you can actually have a conversation beyond ‘Where you from? What’s your name? No what’s your real name?’ These men are also the ones who buy you books and documentary DVDs are a natural complement to this. Most recently I was given a documentary featuring author Jared Diamond. This is because I recommended his books to a customer who’s now a fan.

Chocolate men and feeders

I can’t imagine we look undernourished, we are dancers not models, our job is a workout. There are quite a few voluptuous strippers around but some men feel the compulsion to feed us. At a Soho strip club I worked in we were frequently visited by ‘the chocolate men’. There were two of them who would eagerly arrive with supermarket bags full of chocolate and sit themselves down on Gynaecology Row. They were always eager and wide-eyed despite years of seeing the same things again and again. They looked pretty dodgy, and like they lived on Pot Noodles and rollies, so I always assumed they’d been shoplifting on their way to the club. I couldn’t imagine them buying all that chocolate; surely they’d been out on a week long thieving spree before coming to see us.

They were awkward and geeky, and it was clear why they were single, but they were harmless. They didn’t tip in actual real money but they eagerly handed out boxes of chocolate. Sometimes a little too eagerly so you found yourself conflicted between ‘what a shame, he’s a bit simple/come near me again and I’ll fucking knock you out’. Charmless as well as harmless.

They would only stay for the first hour or two of the evening as there would come a point where the charity of the strippers and the management would wear off and they would have to go. The strippers would point out that ‘we want to be rich not fat’ and the manager would need them to buy more than one beer only. So off they’d scuttle, probably on their way to rob Tesco.

Poetry

When you work in a strip pub you get used to all kinds of eccentrics. Everyone is fairly relaxed about them and just leaves them be. In fact it’s probably one of the only places they can just sit and have beer, have a pretty girl say hi and be left in peace. One odd character is someone we call ‘red wine and poetry man’. I have no idea what his real name is, no one does, but he buys whole bottles of red wine, sits at the bar with an A4 pad and writes poetry. As the night progresses he gets more and more drunk, the poetry gets worse and worse and he ends up crying. It’s strange but he does it again and again.

Of course he’ll give his verses to the dancers as tokens of affection. In the changing room one night a Brazilian girl showed me what he had written for her. I read it through with disappointment, it was an Oasis song and he was hoping she wouldn’t realise, as English was not her first language. We both laughed and said ‘oh dear, oh well’.

So to say the customers all look at us only as mere sex objects doesn’t quite fit if someone has taken the time to think about a gift for you. It also ignores the fact that people are often wrapped up in their own world and their loneliness, so are looking for any kind of connection. ‘Feminist’ groups shrieking ‘objectification’ ignore the humanity in these situations. And if someone does look at me and simply think ‘phwoarrr nice tits’ rather than ‘goodness I wonder what she thinks about art/ history/politics/theatre etc? Well, who gives a shit? I certainly don’t have time to contemplate everyone’s inner workings, and I do have nice tits.

The Guardian And The “Sexualisation” Panic

According to Wikipedia, a moral panic is defined as: “…an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.”

Most societies experience panics on a regular basis, but Britain, thanks to the trashy level of our press, perhaps experiences more than most countries. Moral panics have a simple purpose: to convince a citizenry that something must be done. And that something is almost invariably bad, when viewed in hindsight.

A good moral panic needs a simple message so that commentators can easily push it into the public mind: a good panic needs good branding. Thirty years ago, a moral panic was in full swing under the label “Video Nasties”. For those who don’t remember, a Video Nasty was a term coined by the media for what we now call a horror video. Led by morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the media and politicians set out to convince the public that, unless something is done, British society would be engulfed by a tsunami of torture, rape and murder. Something was done: the Video Recordings Act (1984) imposed on Britain the most draconian system of video censorship in the democratic world. The Video Nasties panic may have been subsequently exposed as a fuss over nothing, but the censorship system, run by the BBFC, still operates today.

The “Sexualisation” panic has been in full swing for five years or so, and is reaching a point of saturation; it is regularly repeated throughout the media, and has been adopted by politicians not just from the religious right, but also from the left. As I blogged a couple of years ago, Sexualisation is an almost meaningless and certainly unmeasurable concept. It was largely brought into the public consciousness in 2010 by an evidence-free government report which was (bizarrely) carried out by a Christian organisation. It has become an umbrella idea that encapsulates various morality causes including (but not limited to) censoring music videos, censoring pornography, removing bare breasts from the Sun newspaper, banning “lad’s mags”, shaming parents into dressing their children more “modestly”; in fact, it is used to attack any kind of sexual expression, or even innocent nudity. Those leading the panic – including the pro-censorship “feminist” group, Object, politicians, and Christian morality campaigners – have learned from Mary Whitehouse’s “Video Nasty” success, and are turning up the level of hysteria until the government is pressured into taking action.

The scary thing about Sexualisation (as opposed to Video Nasties) is that it is undefined and undefinable. Thus, when we reach the something must be done moment, that something will be sweeping and draconian. Given that Sexualisation is a “disease” that allegedly affects men, women, breasts, children, shops, TV, video, the Internet and even (shock horror!) high streets, the only valid response to it must be a cross-society attack on all sexual expression. Perhaps we need a Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? That might work.

I’ve expressed my sadness before that the normally liberal-ish Guardian becomes conservative and censorious when sex is on the agenda. This week, The Guardian entered full moral panic mode by inviting “the public” to submit “sexualised imagery from the high street”. The question is, how does the Guardian decide what “sexualised imagery” is? I’ve walked down my high street today, and have seen the following:

  • Women in mini-skirts. Yes! Women are revealing not just their ankles, but their knees and their thighs!
  • Women revealing cleavage!! Low-cut tops are surely the devil’s work, designed to “objectify” breasts and thus cause men (who as we know, have literally no impulse control) to rape people.
  • A teenage girl in shorts and fishnets: because the perverts who see Sexualisation everywhere are particularly (and disturbingly) obsessed with the way children and teens dress.
  • Builders with no tops on: False alarm – topless men are actually OK, because the neo-Whitehouse crowd (in common with all morality campaigners) only want to cover female flesh. Men, of course, can dress however they like.

But I could find no recent explosion of “sexualised imagery”. Of course, there are porn mags, but there have always been porn mags; in fact, porn magazine sales have collapsed under the pressure of competition from DVD and the Internet. The term Sexualisation implies that things are changing for the worse. But unless I’m missing something big, they aren’t. Indeed, the debate has moved away from “harm” to the far broader measure of “causing offence” – and the reason for this is simple: the pro-censorship movement can provide no evidence of harm.

So why not submit your own images? Since the Guardian has joined the “anything that offends anybody must be bad” brigade, photograph things that might offend somebody and send them in. Seen gay men holding hands? Muslim women showing hair from under their hijab? Mixed-races couples kissing? All those things represent Sexualisation, and are offensive, right? To somebody?

As we are led headlong into a new wave of censorship, it’s saddening to see Mary Whitehouse’s Mediawatch-UK organisation joined in its endless morality campaigning by “feminists”; and the Daily Mail joined in its “cover up women” fetish by the Guardian. These are conservative times indeed.

Conservative Feminism and the Right to Offend

This week, the fight to censor British media and art – even more than is done already – took a bizarre new turn, as pro-censorship “feminist” groups Object and UK Feminista launched an attack against Lads’ Mags. This attack can trace its roots to American morality campaigners in the 1980s, and it’s worth exploring a little history.

From the 1960s all the way through to the 90s, the British media scene was haunted by a pro-censorship figure; a devout Christian who believed her faith entailed the right to stop any British person from seeing anything that she personally found offensive. Mary Whitehouse was widely mocked throughout her campaigning life, which coincided with the greatest upswing of liberal attitudes in modern British history. She railed against the “permissive society”, in which her Christian morals came under assault from every side: the second-wave feminists were declaring the rights of women to enjoy sex without censure; abortion and homosexuality were legalised; TV and the theatre risked showing nudity, and society failed to collapse. There was plenty of work for a morality campaigner to do, but Whitehouse undertook it with a ferocious energy that gained her admirers, even among her enemies.

Although she was a figure of fun for most people, Whitehouse left her mark on British society: we became, and remain, the most censored country in Europe, other than Catholic Ireland and Poland. Her lobbying organisation, Mediawatch-UK, outlived her, and actively campaigns against “permissiveness” to this day.

But in the 1980s, the pro-censorship cause gained surprising new supporters. The feminist movement, once as far removed from Whitehouse as could be possible, split, and a new conservative wing of feminism emerged. The new, pro-censorship feminism was as moralistic as the 1960s feminists had been libertarian, as determined to cover up all female flesh as the previous generation had been to flaunt it – whether as a political statement, or just because…

Now, post-Whitehouse, media morality campaigns are spearheaded, not by conservative Christians, but by conservative feminists (though it must be suspected that many Christian morality campaigners have sought camouflage in the puritanical feminist movement).

This week’s salvo from the morality crusaders works as follows: they declare that any public display of sexuality – nudity, semi-nudity, or anything they deem to be sexual – “demeans” women. All female flesh must be covered up, in order to “protect” women.

The tactic they employ is to declare that any shop that sells potentially “offensive” material – lads’ mags in this case – constitutes sexual harassment, and thus an attack on civil rights, against any female employee in the shop. Women are, according to this doctrine, weaker and more delicate than men, and thus must be protected. This message is, of course, an anti-feminist one. But amidst the hysteria, many middle-class “feminists” seem not to have noticed, and are embracing this deeply patriarchal concept.

The tactic means that any woman who feels “harassed” or “offended” by having to even share a building with “sexualised” material can sue her employer. This isn’t an original idea; it was invented by a US lawyer, Catharine Mackinnon, who was one of America’s leading conservative feminist morality campaigners in the 1980s. This “civil rights” approach to attacking sexual expression turns censorship from something the state does, into something anybody can do. Any woman who feels she is offended, or “demeaned”, by a smiling photo of a semi-naked woman can claim that her rights have been violated, and sue for damages.

The Mackinnon attempt failed; to allow such challenges would fundamentally undermine free speech, and this is clearly protected under the first amendment of the US Constitution. What Object and UK Feminista are not making clear is what should be obvious to anyone: if a person can sue for finding something “demeaning”, then anything can, and will, be censored. Offence is taken, not given, and almost everything offends somebody. Religious groups will find lads’ mags offensive. And Page 3 of the Sun. And gay publications. Some atheists will find religious material offensive, and surely a Christian bookshop worker could sue for having to sell The God Delusion? Fundamentalist Christians could find Muslim or Jewish publications offensive, and vice-versa. White and black supremacists may object to imagery showing mixed-race couples.

Art galleries will be sued for showing any kind of sexual or other controversial object – for example, erotic Roman sculptures currently on display at the British Museum. All expression will come under attack. The possibilities are endless.

Am I just guessing? No; the Mackinnon law, which failed to gain traction in the US, was adopted in Canada in 1992. The result: “controversial” material – and in particular feminist and gay publications – was seized. Gay bookshops were raided. The Canadian state revelled in its new powers of censorship. All the censors had to do, if they wanted to ban something, was to find one person who found that thing offensive.

Are Object and UK Feminista just well-meaning but naive? Unlikely. These groups know better than anyone the history of what they are trying to do, and the chilling effects this tactic would have on free expression. What is really disheartening is the rush of “feminist” supporters to back these morality groups in the mistaken belief that feminism is about begging “The Patriarchy” to protect weak, sensitive, helpless women from anything they might find demeaning (which has, it seems, come to mean “icky”). What is tragic is the widespread belief that the very sexual freedoms won by the 1960s feminists are themselves a threat to women’s rights.

I have a fundamental problem with people who are prepared to be easily offended. About anything. In fact, I find them offensive. Object and UK Feminista will find themselves as easily censored as anybody else if their “civil rights” approach to censorship succeeds; I suspect they don’t care. They are the modern-day successors to Mary Whitehouse, and if they succeed in banning all “offensive” material, they will have finished the job she began in 1963, when she set out to attack – more than anything else – the sexual liberation of women.

[PS – As I’m so often informed that I, being a mere man, have no right to comment on feminist issues, here are a couple of other good articles on the Lads Mag campaign, written by women.]

Georgia Lewis: Losing lads’ mags and the slippery slope of censorship

Gemma Ahearne: Dangerous Dolls: ‘Object’ and Lose The Lads’ Mags

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.

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.”

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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

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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.