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.

Excellent Video on “Objectification”

I’ve previously created both blog posts and podcasts covering the O-word. In a nutshell, I’ve concluded that this term is almost always meaningless; I’m supported in this view by the fact that I’ve never encountered anyone who talks about objectification that can articulately explain what the term actually means. It appears to be little other than a new, “liberal”-sounding excuse to attack sexuality, and in particular, female sexuality (after all, fans of “Objectification” seem to have a shared goal in getting women to cover themselves up; they don’t seem to care much about naked men).

Today, someone forwarded me this excellent video on the subject – it’s worth a view.

The Strippers Strike Back

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo of Edie Lamort, courtesy Millie Robson Photography http://www.millierobson.com/

We welcome back our striptease correspondent, Edie Lamort, who takes a look at the history of the attacks on her trade in the UK, and the fightback by the strippers.

The bell may be about to sound for round two in the fight against censorship so before that happens dear readers let me give you a bit of a background; the story so far, of how this attack on dancers has evolved over the past few years. Before that we were working, studying, partying, creating and just living our lives like everyone else. Now we have had to organize, unionize and fight for our freedom. Here is the story from a Shoreditch point of view.

Once upon a time there were many strippers from all over the world working in London’s East End. There was a really nice combination of stage shows, private dancing, a good camaraderie between the girls and management and most of all lots of money to be made. This gave people freedoms they had never experienced before. People who’d come from nothing could suddenly buy houses, have holidays, study, buy a nice car and send money to the family in Brazil/Argentina/Ukraine/Middlesborough where ever. The new opportunities were wonderful and life was good.

The dancers were also talented, independent and strong willed. A lot of them very creative and unable to sit bored senseless in an office job all day. So they started experimenting with the pole and making up moves. Other girls saw this and copied them, shared knowledge and over time the strippers of the western world created a new and amazing art form. They became great friends because you stick together. In a world where most people will judge you harshly for what you do, you need to have each other’s backs. Maybe you get this level of friendship in the army too but you definitely don’t get it in office world. There is also an intimacy that comes with being in an environment where you can be open and free. When you are in a changing room with someone going, ‘Is this spot on my arse really noticeable? Can you have a look? Thanks’. So you peer at your friend’s arse, dab concealer on it and tell her not to worry.

The first time the dancers ever encountered the haters was over ten years ago. Mark our gay manager decided to have a birthday party. So he used Browns on the Sunday night, when it was closed to the public. There were DJs, bands and the hot Brazilian bar man did a strip for everyone. It was a great party. Then someone came in and said ‘hey there’s a protest outside!’ So we went out and saw Anna Van Heejswick and her nascent hate group Object shouting and waving their slogans around. The dancers started laughing at them and told them they had come on the wrong night, ‘hahaha there are male strippers here if you want to check them out!’ But the haters kept on shouting outside, on a cold November night.

No one thought about them for years, believing people wouldn’t be stupid enough to listen to such a group of extremists but alas. You think ‘oh most people are sane, extremist groups will just be laughed at and ignored’. Unfortunately this is not always true and we now find ourselves in a battle. Object had the ear of Harriet Harman MP and so a handful of people changed the law to the detriment of the many.

The first battle was in Hackney. No one knew about the nil policy consultation for a while until the owner of the White Horse found out about it. An East End matriarch born and bred, Sue had taken over the pub when her Dad retired. She was born and raised in Hackney, had seen the area change and gentrify over the decades, and now faced having the family business closed due to the moral objections of a few new, middle class residents. She was furious and sent the information to everyone she could think of. She started a Facebook group and within days all the dancers were as livid as Sue and began to fight back. Sue and Denise, the owner of Browns, got together with Thierry from the GMB trade union and organised a legal team. The dancers took over in terms of publicity, speaking and being the face of the campaign. They all knew that it had to be dancer led to counteract the patronising narrative that all dancers are ‘poor weak little victims of horrible wicked men’.

A few weeks later Xtalk and the GMB organised a meeting between the workers and the council. The meeting was attended by many dancers, bar staff, DJs, Xtalk and the GMB rep but only one councilor bothered to turn up to listen to the people they were about to make redundant. Then the dancers approached the Hackney TUC and won the unanimous support of everyone. The owners funded a viral video and the dancers organised a protest. ‘Giselle’ liaised with the police and they got the support of the Vicar of Shoreditch. They also wrote to the councilors individually and went to meet the local MP. Thierry the GMB rep said afterwards the councilors were astonished. They had never before received so many letters about a consultation, had never expected the strippers to react like that and were amazed to see a stripper protest outside the town hall!

Round one had been won but the dancers knew it was only the beginning. A few had been in Equity for a while but then more joined due to the fact that it had helped and the unions had supported everyone regardless of where they were members or not. It calmed down for a bit but then the prohibitionists started again in Tower Hamlets. A public debate was announced featuring a rogues’ gallery of the religious right and so called ‘feminists’ who would like us all to live the Dworkinesque nightmare. Immediately dancers began to protest and asked why it was being advertised as a debate when there was no one at all on the panel willing to defend the dancers? Eventually the organisers agreed to let one of the dancers speak and allowed one other person to accompany her. Hardly a debate, just a pathetic gesture.

The email went around, ‘who wants to go speak at this event?’. No one in their right mind wants to but someone has to. I volunteered and was allowed 5 minutes amongst the 3 hours of ranting. It was a shocking experience to see how politics works. A small group with an agenda and some funding create stigma and fear against an unrepresented subculture and use them as a scapegoat. This panic they create is then used to justify a change to the law and for more freedoms to be taken away. We are all aware that these methods are used but to see it in action is a truly shocking experience.

The consolation came and went and now the results have been suppressed. Could it be that it did not go their way I wonder? This has given the clubs time to consult with legal teams. The dancers then decided to organise an event called Dancers Speak Out, to start the fight back in Tower Hamlets. The meeting was held one rainy evening with speakers from the clubs and John McDonnell MP. Who pointed out the hypocrisy of Tower Hamlets borough endorsing Olympic sponsors Dow Chemicals, of Bhopal infamy, yet calling the dancers immoral.

The prohibitionists then moved on to Portsmouth were they are trying hard to close Elegance and Wiggle. Another recent target has been Leeds where religious and ‘feminist’ groups joined forces and sought to close all seven clubs in that city. Once again the dancers and club owners mobilized and fought for their jobs and for freedom. Supported in their campaign by Leeds University researcher Dr Teela Saunders, author of The Regulatory Dance. The licensing committee in Leeds then agreed to reissue licenses to all seven clubs, much to the fury of those opposed. Rachel Reeves MP was upset by this decision and worrying has proposed changing the law because she did not get what she wanted out of the democratic process. What is this strange thought process? ‘The vote didn’t go my way so I will ignore democracy and change the law accordingly’, which is a scary route to take. It also reminds me of the reaction of an older South American dancer two years ago in Hackney. When she heard of the nil policy campaign in Hackney she panicked saying, ‘This is the attitude of dictatorship! I grew up under dictatorship. I came to this country because there were freedoms and opportunity. What are these people doing?! This is the mentality of dictatorship.’

What will be the next chapter in this sorry saga? Without a doubt the Tower Hamlets fight will restart now the Olympics have finished. Coventry is consulting and Lancashire has just thrown out a nil policy bid. UK Feminista have been touring Universities preaching hate towards dancers and customers, and training students on how to close down their local strip clubs.

Most everyday people don’t know or really care about this but when you tell them they are usually shocked to hear about more of our freedoms being taken from us. Be aware that this puritanical backlash is simmering away and oppose it in your local area. This is censorship and it can only end in tears.

Pornstars (Audio)

Having encountered many myths and scare stories about the evils of pornography, I decided to ask the people whose voices don’t tend to be heard: the women in the industry. This podcast features interviews with seven British female pornstars.

Links to research material: Porn Up, Rape Down: http://tinyurl.com/oc54u ; The Sunny Side Of Smut: http://tinyurl.com/3wx5dp7

Feminism For The Few, Guardian-Style

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo of Edie Lamort, courtesy Millie Robson Photography www.millierobson.com

Welcome back MoronWatch guest-blogger and Striptease Correspondent, Edie Lamort, as she takes on the Guardianista approach to “feminism”

Occasionally on those Sunday morning TV discussion shows, there will be a topic entitled ‘Has Feminism Gone too Far?’. A rather patronising title as no-one would ever have a discussion entitled ‘Have Civil Rights Gone too Far?’ or ‘Have Rights for Homosexuals Gone too Far?’ Better questions to ask would be something like ‘Why is Feminism so divided?’, ‘Has Feminism lost its way?’ or ‘Why is Feminism Obsessed with Moralism?’

The recent resurgence in a certain type of ‘feminism’ has certainly polarised debate and alienated a lot of women due to its anti-sex stance. This has been pioneered by fanatical fright groups like Object who are given a voice by media such as The Guardian. The patron of Object is the ever-angry Polly Toynbee so this is not surprising. I no longer even bother to read what she writes as it is just so negative. The same goes to Julie Bindel, who seems to be so full of righteous rage and venom, that I can no longer bear to listen to what she has to say. Her recent tirade against Dr Brooke Magnanti was appalling and surely cannot be called journalism? Dr Magnanti’s response to this was far more magnanimous and reflected positively on her.

The article was entitled Brooke Magnanti Vs Julie Bindel so I clicked through, thinking it would be an interesting debate between two strong women, who both describe themselves as Feminists, but come from very different ends of the spectrum. I was shocked to read the one-sided, abusive rant from Julie Bindel and wondered why The Guardian would print such a thing. Why employ this provocateur to write in this ‘playground bully’ style? Isn’t this supposed to be a reputable paper?

Then I read the comments below, which generally condemned Ms Bindel’s bile, and realised how many clicks and comments this article had generated. Could this be the reason? As we know, many forms of media have suffered large revenue losses in the past decade, due to free online media and recession, so have to rely on dwindling advertising revenues. I wonder if the only reason they print these kinds of articles is to generate unique page visits and up the volume of clicks on their website? People always love a good cat fight don’t they?!

Imagine how much good this is doing for the web stats of the Guardian and how they can use this to sell their brand. When presenting the medium as a good place for advertisers to raise brand awareness, they need to demonstrate a healthy readership, who also interact with the medium, thus increasing advertising revenue. Call me cynical but it’s always worth looking at the financial angle. The prohibitionists and rescue industry have long been making careers and money out of the workers in the Erotic Industries. Stanley Cohen, in his groundbreaking book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics describes this phenomena as “deviance exploitation”. It is where the control culture financially exploits the current “folk devils”, supported by the tool of moral panic.

Another major contradiction in this paper is the question of who has the ultimate control over a woman’s body. The main theme of Feminism has been about women gaining ownership over themselves yet the Guardian takes differing stances depending on the debate. It depends who we’re talking about: women wanting abortions, those choosing to wear the burka and then those choosing to strip for a living.

In Guardian World the right for a woman to choose whether to abort or not is sacred. Fine within reason and I agree. The right for a woman to wear a burqa, as long as it is her choice, is not questioned. OK, banning an item of clothing is a silly idea and it can be argued that the symbolism of the burqa is changing. From the ultimate objectification; saying a woman is a black hidden mass, fit only for cooking, cleaning and breeding. (Full burqa only applies here because if you can see someone’s face you can see who they are.) To what is now sometimes a political stance, an anti-establishment gesture, especially in countries like France, that have banned the burqa.

However if you’re a stripper, your right to choose what you can and can’t do with your body, is forbidden in Guardian World! We must be roundly condemned as poisoning society and leading to the abuse of women. You will be told that you have been brainwashed and suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. To dance naked and celebrate feminine beauty is a betrayal in Guardian World. To enjoy and exhibit your sexuality is seen as ‘bad’ and ‘corrupt’.

I find this new slut-shaming ‘feminism’ ridiculous and unhealthy. I don’t want to be part of it. A feminist revival that alienates and denounces other women is not the kind of angry and divisive ideology I want to sign up to. They say Feminist, I say Witch-Finder General, stoking the bonfires of moral panic.

The Art of Pole Dancing

Stripper Edie Lamort
Photo of Edie Lamort courtesy Millie Robson Photography http://www.millierobson.com/

I’d like to welcome guest blogger Edie Lamort, our occasional striptease correspondent. Edie is a stripper and trade unionist who is defending her right to work, against a coalition of conservatives ranging from “feminists” to religious fundamentalists. You can also hear my interview with Edie in my podcast Strippers Are People Too.

As Tango developed in the brothels of Buenos Aires so Pole dancing developed in the strip clubs of the western world and is now an art form. A style of dance requiring a high level of fitness and flexibility, along with hours of practice and experience, just like any other form of dance. It has developed organically over the past 20 years in the strip pubs and clubs of the UK and else where in the world, to become a gravity defying, acrobatic and very impressive dance. Today, it is not only performed in Strip Pubs and Clubs but is now being incorporated into theatrical dance routines.

As a dancer, I remember Browns getting its first poles in 2000 and girls experimenting on the quiet shifts. Someone would figure something out and then show the others how it was done. You would then work it into your routine until you got comfortable with the move and it became second nature. As you got stronger and more confident you would start learning more and more moves, developed naturally, mimicked and modified. As people around the country and around the world began to develop this art form, it reached a natural critical mass, and girls started to name and categorise the moves. Instructional videos appeared all over youtube and strippers began to get work in gyms, at hen parties and dance schools. Some of the dancers set up their own businesses teaching the art to many others. The White Horse would open at 11am, before the lunch shift started at 1pm, so the dancers could work on routines and moves. Dancers began to get very serious about their shows and this resulted in the better performers getting booked by gay clubs and fetish clubs, and then mainstream clubs and summer festivals.

Pole dancing is a serious work out. Any dancer that has had a while off the pole will be aching and bruised the next day. Just like you would after a heavy gym session. Full time pole dancers are solid muscle, with fantastic upper body strength; in fact a lot of men make very good pole dancers due to the fact that they quickly build that upper body strength.

The group leading the anti-striptease campaign are called Object, here is a direct quote from Anna Van Heeswijk CEO of Object, in relation to the recent Hackney consultation;

“OBJECT’s petition etc. was to urge Hackney to set a nil-limit on Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs). SEVs are defined by the Home Office Guidance as:

“any live performance or live display of nudity which is of such a nature that, ignoring financial gain, it must reasonably be assumed to be provided solely or principally for the purpose of sexually stimulating any member of an audience (whether by verbal or other means).” An audience can consist of just one person (e.g. where the entertainment takes place in private booths).

It is further stated in the Home Office guidance that while local authorities should judge each case on its merits, SEVs would apply to the following forms of entertainment as they are commonly understood: Lap dancing; Pole dancing; Table dancing; Strip shows; Peep shows; Live sex shows.”

Now lets take a look at this statement and think about the implications of it.

Pole dancing – a form of dance/aerial performance art, using a pole.

Table dancing – a personal dance for an individual where there is no contact.

Strip shows – traditional striptease on stage after a jug collection

Peep shows – dancing in a room where the audience can only view your striptease after paying money in the slot.

Lap dancing – full contact dance where the dancer physically stimulates the customer by rubbing his ‘lap’ with her buttocks, breasts or legs.

Live sex shows – these obviously involve full contact and penetration and do not happen in licensed venues. They take place at ‘private parties’ and are unregulated.

From these definitions I would say that, apart from being sexy, there is a huge amount of difference between each performance and that they should not be lumped together in the same category. Pole dancing is a not the same as a ‘live sex show’ and should be classed as a performance not a sexual encounter. However this is the fundamental problem with the Policing and Crime Bill of 2009, everything is classed as a sexual encounter.

I find the line in the quote “…sexually stimulating any member of an audience (whether by verbal or other means)” very odd. It’s a kind of vague thought police statement. Physically stimulating an audience is a definition that is a lot clearer. Obviously this involves contact and therefore only happens with Lap Dancing and possibly, but not always, with Live Sex Shows. However verbally stimulating an audience could this be erotic poetry or stories? Byron or Sappo? It does after all say ‘any live performance or live display of nudity’ so could you have your clothes on and read an erotic novel out loud or is that to be banned? Or are they referring to the imagination and the verbal narrative that may be going on in someone’s head when they watch a striptease? As we can see this is a grey area and is also threatening Burlesque, Gay and Trannie clubs along with various dance troupes and theatre.

So In terms of interpreting these guidelines, what are we supposed to make of them? They are vague and could be used in a very arbitrary manner to shut down whatever you please for whatever reasons. There seems to be a lack of understanding by those who wrote the bill as to what it was they were actually legislating against. Although there was a basic consultation when this bill was being passed it amounted to ‘anti’ groups such as Object putting their case across and Peter Stringfellow, plus a handful of dancers going to Parliament. There was never any wide ranging consultation with the dancers. No desire to understand those who chose to dance and whether they were unhappy or happy with the situation and what could be done to improve things.

Likewise there was no attempt to understand the industry, how it has changed and to realize there is a difference between traditional East End strip pubs that have just a jug collection and a stage show and the newer lap-dancing venues. I personally prefer the former as they have that vaudeville/burlesque feel and I come from a performance background. They are fun and creative and have inspired many recent art forms. Some dancers prefer the lap dancing and are not comfortable on stage but we have been left without the choice after this legislation has grouped everything together as one. It appears to be legislation based on moral panic as opposed to facts.

The Coalition is unlikely to repeal ‘Harriet’s Law’ right now but it would be a good start if all pole dancers joined Equity. Pole Dancing should fall under a music and entertainment License, only true Lap Dancing and Live Sex Shows should be covered under the Sexual Encounters License.