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.

SlutWalk Upsets Morons

I love how mass movements seem to appear from nowhere in the Internet age, and SlutWalk is my latest favourite. It began predictably enough – a Toronto policeman called Michael Sanguinetti expressed his opinion that if women want to avoid sexual assault, they should avoid dressing as sluts. It’s a nasty view, but hardly an original one. The idea that women are responsible for male sexual violence against them goes back to the dawn of history, and is the basis of dress rules for Orthodox Jews, nuns and Muslim women in burqas.

This idea is often self-fulfilling – in Catholic Southern Italy or Islamic Morocco, local women dress conservatively, and when more scantily-dressed tourists appear, local men take this as an invitation to touch without permission – or worse. The more conservative a society, the more women are likely to be branded as “sluts”, and treated as if they have already given consent to whatever may follow. In Bible-belt America, the same branding can be achieved by the use of “chastity rings”, the Southern equivalent of the burqa. If enough young women wear these rings, those who choose to opt out may be assumed to be “up for it” and face sexual harassment, thus “proving” that wearing a ring is the right thing to do.

Thanks to the power of social networking, Sanguinetti’s comments were quickly disseminated, and a new movement was born: the SlutWalk, with the stated aim of standing up against rape culture and slut-shaming. Probably for the first time in history, people took to the streets worldwide to oppose the idea that being a “slut” is somehow wrong.

Promuiscuity by women has been feared and hated since Biblical times, some examples include:

Kill people who commit adultery:

If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

Kill a priest’s daughter if she’s promiscuous:

A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9)

Kill a girl who isn’t a virgin when she marries:

…if [on her wedding night] evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

So it’s hardly surprising that modern-day Christians, Jews and Muslims have a problem with “sluttish” behaviour”. But the religious brigade aren’t the only ones trying to “protect” women from the “pressure” to engage in casual sexual behaviour: a puritanical brand of feminism has emerged that seems to believe exactly the same thing: sex is something men do to women, and therefore the best thing for women to do is resist the pressure of “sexualisation”. Strangely, these so-called “feminist” ideas are the exact opposite of those held by the early feminist movement of the 60s and 70s; this was a movement to liberate women, from male control, including the liberation to enjoy sex whenever and however they wanted.

One of the flag-bearers of puritanical “feminism” is Gail Dines, a campaigner against “sexualisation” and “objectification” (whatever those might be). While SlutWalks aim to reclaim the word Slut, and use it in a positive context, Dines wrote in the Guardian that:

While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.

In other words: being a Slut is a bad thing. It can never be a good thing, so stop trying to make it a good thing. Given that Slut is a synonym for “promiscuous female” (or sometimes male), Dines is saying (wrapped up in feminist language) that promiscuity is wrong, and women shouldn’t be encouraging men, because they’ll only take advantage… which is pretty much what Officer Sanguinetti said in the first place.

I should note that (despite some popular misconceptions), not all feminists are anti-sex or pro-censorship like Gail Dines. But Dines and others like her have hijacked the feminist mantle, with help from the supposedly liberal media, including The Guardian. It should be noted that Dines makes her living from selling books and lectures about the menace of sexualisation – and she clearly knows that fear sells.

Helped by the mass media, along with Facebook and Twitter, The SlutWalk phenomenon has spread globally, with walks planned in many cities, including London on 4th June (UPDATE – the London SlutWalk is now on 11th June). I’d encourage proud sluts of all genders and sexualities to get out on the streets to show the religious and the feminist moralisers that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a healthy, consensual sex life whenever, wherever and with whomever we like.